HOUSTON – A federal jury sitting in Houston has convicted a 24-year-old after hearing how he threatened two young girls and required them to engage in commercial sex, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
They deliberated for approximately two and a half hours before convicting Romello Lee, 24, Houston, following less than two days of trial. He was convicted on one count of trafficking a minor for commercial sex and one count of trafficking a minor by force for commercial sex.
During trial, the jury heard that Lee used Backpage.com, a defunct solicitation website, to advertise the sexual services of two minor victims, ages 14 and 16.
From July 2017 to March 2018, Lee harbored, advertised and profited from commercial sex acts of the 16-year-old minor victim. He required her to earn a quota of up to $500 per night and would threaten and beat her if she disobeyed him.
A second victim was held against her will and required to engage in sexual acts by threats of violence and coercion.
Jurors heard from the second victim as well as another adult victim he managed. They testified as to the consequences if they were to escape and how they were expected to be branded with a tattoo of his name or rap label.
The jury also saw numerous Backpage ads Lee posted as well as Instagram posts and text messages between him and the minor victim, detailing his control of her dates, her nightly quota and her beatings.
Law enforcement ultimately arrested Lee in a sting operation with one of the minors at a hotel in northwest Houston.
U.S. District David Hittner presided over the trial and set sentencing for May 29. At that time, Lee faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison for the sex trafficking of a minor as well as at least 15 years and up to life for the trafficking of minor by force.
He has been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, Houston Police Department and FBI conducted the investigation as part of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA).
HTRA law enforcement includes members of the Houston Police Department, FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Attorney General’s Office, IRS-Criminal Investigation, Department of Labor (DOL), DOL – Wage and Hour Division, Department of State, Texas Alcoholic and Beverage Commission, Texas Department of Public Safety, Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General (OIG), Social Security Administration – OIG and Sheriff’s Offices in Harris and Montgomery counties in coordination with District Attorney’s offices in Harris, Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties.
Established in 2004, the United States Attorney’s office in Houston formed HTRA to combine resources with federal, state and local enforcement agencies and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental service organizations to target human traffickers while providing necessary services to those that the traffickers victimized. Since its inception, HTRA has been recognized as both a national and international model in identifying and assisting victims of human trafficking and prosecuting those engaged in trafficking offenses.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Richard D. Hanes and Heather Winter are prosecuting the case.