- Associated Press - Saturday, October 31, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A federal jury in Bismarck has convicted a man accused of sex trafficking in the Williston area.

Keith Graves, 39, showed little emotion on Friday after he was convicted on five counts of sex trafficking by force or coercion, and distribution of and possession of methamphetamine, the Bismarck Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1KAyrAP ).

Each sex-trafficking offense carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, with the possibility of life in prison. A sentencing hearing was set for Feb. 18.

The jury found that Graves possessed and sold methamphetamine while living in Williston and used violence and drug addiction to coerce several women into selling themselves for sex, with Graves keeping the profits.

Women who testified for the prosecution said Graves used a handgun, bat and fists to keep them in line.

Graves, who represented himself during the 10-day trial, did not testify. But he has maintained there was insufficient evidence to convict him and asked U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland to dismiss the case.

Much as he did before the trial, Hovland cautioned Graves about representing himself at sentencing.

“I repeatedly warned you about the dangers of representing yourself,” Hovland said after the verdict on Friday. “Please don’t be stubborn and try to undertake the sentencing issues yourself.”

Graves was arrested in July 2014 and charged in state court. The case was later transferred to federal court. Graves’ arrest was one of the first high-profile human trafficking cases in western North Dakota’s oil patch.

Graves was one of the main subjects in “The Overnighters,” which won an award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It followed a pastor who opened his church to homeless oil workers.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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