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Feds: Crips gang ran teen prostitution ring in Northern Virginia

The Crips, one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the United States, has spread its network of crime into high schools across the country, including Virginia, where gang leaders recruited young girls as prostitutes with promises of "lots of money" and then maintained their allegiance through beatings, threats, assaults and an endless supply of drugs.

With over 35,000 members in an estimated 800 individual gangs or "sets" in more than 30 states and 120 cities, the Crips recruited the girls — some of them runaways — after approaching them on the street or at Metro stations and by making contact with them through Facebook and DateHookUp.com.

Most of the girls are 15 and 16 who, according to documents unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, became reluctant to report their "pimps" to the police after what law enforcement authorities described as violent and frequent beatings and threats.

With a requirement to commit acts of violence to obtain or maintain their gang membership, the Crips locally have added to their reputations as violent street thugs. In the Washington Metropolitan area, they have been involved in attempted murders, assaults, rapes, robberies, thefts, drug distribution, obstruction of justice by threatening witnesses and racketeering to fund their enterprise.

The arrest of five members of the Virginia-based set known as the Underground Gangster Crips (UGC) was announced Thursday in Fairfax County, charged with running a prostitution business that recruited high school girls and threatened them with violence if they attempted to leave. Including those charges, 11 members of area gangs have been named on charges of underage sex trafficking since 2011 as part of a number of ongoing investigations.

Justin "J-Dirt" Strom, 26, of Lorton; Donyel "Bleek" Dove, 27, of Alexandria; Michael "Loc" Jefferies, 21, of Woodbridge; Henock "Knocks" Ghile, 23, of Springfield; and Christopher Sylvia, 22, of Springfield, were charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Virginia in connection with a prostitution ring that operated throughout Northern Virginia. Mr. Strom was identified by the FBI as the known leader of the UGC. If convicted, each could receive a sentence of life in prison.

"The sex trafficking of young girls is an unconscionable crime involving unspeakable trauma," said U.S. Attorney Neil H. McBride. "These gang members are alleged to have lured many area high school girls in the vile world of prostitution, and used violence and threats to keep them working as indentured sex slaves."

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II described the situation as "every parent's worst nightmare," saying it also demonstrated that human trafficking can happen anywhere and is "a very real danger here in Virginia."

"By working together with U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride and our law enforcement partners, we will send a swift and strong message that this criminal behavior will not be tolerated in the Commonwealth of Virginia," he said.

Between April 2009 and March 2012, according to an affidavit by FBI Agent Jeffrey F. Johannes, at least 10 high school girls were recruited by UGC leaders, including one 16-year-old girl who was approached by Mr. Strom at a Metro station, told she was pretty and advised "she could make a lot of money by having sex with men."

Many of the girls were required to submit to sex with members of the gang as a "try out" or an "initiation" before they worked as prostitutes.

The affidavit said the girls were told the UGC would receive $50 for vaginal sex and $20 for oral sex and that they would receive half of the proceeds. They also were given marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy and alcohol before and after they had sex with various men, the affidavit said. The sex generally occurred at hotels, but the girls often were told to go door-to-door to solicit men for sex.

When one girl told Mr. Strom she no longer wanted to participate in the prostitution, the affidavit said he choked her and threatened her with additional violence.

The affidavit also said that Mr. Strom threatened another girl, 17, with a knife, cutting her on the arm when she refused to use cocaine and then forced her to have sex with him. It said she was then taken to an apartment where she was forced to have intercourse with "fourteen unknown males," from whom Mr. Strom collected $1,000.

Two other UGC members drove her home, telling her she "got what she had coming" and, according to the affidavit, if she spoke of the events that they would "come back and kill her."

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