NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee federal jury split its verdict Friday against nine men accused of operating a sex trafficking ring run mostly by Somali refugee gang members, convicting three men and acquitting six.
The defendants are among a total of 30 who were indicted in the case that spans from Minnesota to Ohio and Tennessee.
A Somali witness identified only as Jane Doe No. 2 testified that she was used as a prostitute by gang members starting at the age of 12. She cried in court as she described being taken to several apartments in around suburban Minneapolis to have sex with other Somali men for money, sometimes as little as $40.
She later described a trip to Nashville where she was found by police.
Defense attorneys contended the witness willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face.
Idris Ibrahim Fahra, Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf were found guilty of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion. The three men were also charged with sex trafficking and attempted sex trafficking, but only Fahra was convicted on one additional count of sex trafficking.
Seven of the nine defendants are of Somali descent. Another was born in Ethiopia. Kayachith was born in the U.S. and is of Laotian descent.
The exact age of the victim was not clear after prosecutors revealed on the eve of trial that her birth certificate was falsified. The government maintained she was still a minor when she was involved with the gang, although defense attorneys disagreed. The woman's age was important because the government had to show she was under 18 to prove child sex trafficking charges.
Jennifer Thompson, defense attorney for defendant Fahra, said Jane Doe No. 2 was a runaway who manipulated people around her and was fed information from a St. Paul, Minn., police investigator. Thompson also said Jane Doe No. 2 was an adult who was the same age or older than the men she was having sex with.
Another witness, who was identified in court as Jane Doe No. 5, testified that she saw young women and girls being used as prostitutes in a Nashville apartment. She testified that she was being used to have sex with men in Minnesota when she was around 15 or 16 years old.
Luke Evans, a defense attorney for Fadumo Mohamed Farah, said Jane Doe No. 5 was mentally ill and not taking her medication when she testified. He argued that she suffers from paranoid delusions and can't tell fiction from fact.
The original indictment that was unsealed in 2010 claims the ring involved three Minneapolis-based gangs — the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws — and that all three gangs are connected. The men and women charged were either gang members or associates of the gangs, the indictment said. The indictment said the gangs operated in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville.
The other defendants were severed from the trial and could face trial at a later date.
Acquitted on Friday were Ahmad Abnulnasir Ahmad, Musse Ahmed Ali, Fadumo Mohamed Farah, Fatah Haji Hashi, Dahir Nor Ibrahim and Mohamed Ahmed Amalle.