On Friday, September 4, 2020, three Philadelphia men were arraigned and charged by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania with one count of conspiracy to sex traffic a minor and with four counts of sex trafficking a minor, according to the Department of Justice. The pretrial detention hearings for each defendant took place before the Honorable Lynne Sitarski on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
According to the indictment, “from, on or about February 1, 2016 through February 1, 2017, in the Eastern District of Philadelphia,” the defendants, Andre Michael Felts (32), Kevin Michael Francis (60) and Ryan Keel (39), were allegedly conducting an elaborate conspiracy for the commercial sexual exploitation of minors and other individuals. In addition to enticing and recruiting young females, the defendants allegedly harbored and maintained the young victims at various residences and transported and sold the victims to men, all for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The defendants allegedly utilized the shuttered Internet website “backpage.com” to advertise their various victims, including minors, as available for commercial sex acts. According to the indictment, Felts was the alleged leader of the trafficking ring.
All three defendants have criminal histories in Philadelphia. Felts has charges of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and attempted murder on his record, among other charges and convictions. Francis has court appearances dating back to 1991, with burglary and criminal conspiracy convictions, along with several other charges and convictions for dealing drugs. Keel has charges of aggravated assault, terroristic threats with intent to terrorize another, reckless endangerment, along with other charges and convictions on his record.
“Soliciting,” “obtaining” or “harboring” a minor for any sexual act constitutes trafficking. Under the Federal crime of Sex Trafficking of Children, prosecutors will need to prove that the defendants engaged in any of the listed acts, which could include soliciting, enticing, harboring, obtaining, patronizing or transporting a minor who is or will be subject to sexual servitude. In the prosecution of this crime, when the defendant(s) had a reasonable opportunity to observe the person so recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, maintained, patronized, or solicited, the Government need not prove that the defendant(s) knew, or recklessly disregarded the fact, that the victim was a minor.
In order to demonstrate a person is a victim of sexual servitude when the victim is over the age of 18, the prosecution must prove that the alleged offender acted with force, fraud or coercion. However, under Federal and State law, all minors who are commercially sexually exploited are inherently victims of sex trafficking, which means that force, fraud or coercion are not elements of the crime. No child can consent to being sold for sex, and any commercial sex act involving a minor constitutes sex trafficking.
The indictments stress the existence of many other known and unknown adult and minor victims of this alleged conspiracy. If the allegations prove true, it is unimaginable the extent to which these victims suffered and the tortures to which they were subjected. And, if the allegations prove true, no amount of jail time assigned to the defendants will make up for the time during which the minor and adult victims were subjected to such abject exploitation; however, prosecuting the alleged crimes with every force and tool of the law cannot be underestimated in the healing and empowering validation the prosecution can play for victims. Society can work at recreating justice for victims of sexual trafficking, starting with the diligent, careful and steadfast prosecution of the alleged perpetrators.
The Department of Justice announced that the investigation was part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and recover victims. The CSE Institute commends the Department of Justice and the FBI’s Philadelphia Field Division and the Philadelphia Police Department for their work in investigating and prosecuting this horrific crime against women and children. The CSE Institute will provide updates as these cases move forward.