On August 21, 2019, Hasan Shamere Singleton, 27, of Philadelphia, PA was sentenced to 6-20 years in state prison. The sentence comes nearly three months after Singleton was found guilty of attempt to Trafficking in Minors (F1), Promoting Prostitution of a Minor (F3), and Unlawful Conduct with a Minor (F3). Prior to this case, Singleton’s criminal history included a 2010 arrest for DUI. Under Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines, the trafficker’s lack of prior convictions for sex crimes or other violent offenses enabled Singleton to avoid the maximum sentence of 17-34 years. However, he now must register as a sex offender for the next 25 years. Singleton has been in custody since the date of his conviction, ensuring that at least one less child sex trafficker is roaming the streets.
Members of the Upper Merion Township Police Department, including Detective John W. Wright, encountered Singleton on October 11, 2018 while they were conducting a human trafficking investigation at the Hyatt House hotel in King of Prussia. Prostitution and sex trafficking within hotels and motels is common in this area of Montgomery County. Depending on the circumstances of each crime, the hotel entity, owners, and even employees may be liable to lawsuits and criminal charges if they knowingly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking on the premises. To learn more about industry liability, check out our policy paper. According to reports, Singleton arranged for the victim to be sold for sex at that motel; he drafted and posted the advertisements and transported the victim to the pre-determined location where detectives waited.
Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Brittenburg prosecuted the case against Singleton. We commend Mr. Brittenburg for his steadfast support of the victim who testified in this case. Mr. Brittenburg showed great concern for the victim’s safety and well-being throughout the trial. He even successfully argued for the victim to receive emotional support from a courthouse therapy dog while on the stand, a mere ten feet away from her trafficker. The victim testified that she explicitly told Singleton, who she referred to as “H,” that she was a minor. She had known Singleton for about a week before his arrest. The victim’s testimony revealed that Singleton intended to take 40 percent of the victim’s “earnings” and allow her to keep 60 percent. Singleton promised to manage and arrange all of the “dates.” Mr. Brittenburg emphasized that Singleton encouraged the victim to prostitute herself independently to make additional money as well. “He told us how it was going to go, how it was going to work,” the victim testified.
During the one-day trial, Singleton’s defense counsel, Thomas Egan III, argued that the District Attorney’s Office did not have enough evidence to provide the human trafficking charge. Mr. Egan suggested that the victim was a willing participant in Singleton’s trafficking scheme, and thus there was no showing of involuntary servitude. Fortunately, Mr. Brittenburg, interpreting the law correctly, maintained that there is no requirement that the Commonwealth must show evidence of force, fraud, or coercion -inflicted via one of the 13 behaviors listed under the crime of Involuntary Servitude– in a sex trafficking case where the victim is a minor. (See definition of Sexual Servitude.) Make no mistake, a child cannot consent to being sold for sex; it is patently child abuse.
The media reports that at the time of sentencing, Singleton begged for mercy from Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Risa Vetri Ferman. “I can’t go to prison,” said Singleton. Judge Ferman was unpersuaded by his pleas and reiterated that prison time was appropriate for such a serious crime. “It is a predatory crime. It’s a crime of greed and it’s a crime of exploitation and it’s a crime that poses a danger to the community,” Judge Ferman said. We applaud Judge Ferman for recognizing the motivation behind all human trafficking: money. Traffickers are in the business of making money. They are able to make a profit selling men, women, girls, and boys for sex because there is a market for commercial sex – even in Upper Merion Township. We applaud the collaborative efforts of Upper Merion Township Police Department and the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for bringing this trafficker to justice. We especially commend the survivor for courageously coming forward to tell her story. Victim cooperation is critical to making prosecutions successful. To eradicate human trafficking from the Commonwealth, we must continue to prosecute the traffickers, as well as the sex buyers and any third-party facilitators who perpetuate this insidious crime.
All viewed expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.