A Brooklyn Park man will serve eight years in prison for his role in trafficking two women for commercial sex at a Woodbury hotel.
A Washington County judge convicted Tyree Erik Jones, 23, of aiding and abetting the sex trafficking of an individual July 14. Jones pleaded guilty to two counts of the felony crime earlier this month.
Woodbury police arrested Jones and Minneapolis resident Deno Williams during an undercover investigation in Woodbury last December after following a Backpage.com posting advertising a "2 girl special."
Officers working undercover arranged to meet the women at the hotel.
One of the women led officers to the hotel room, where they discovered the second woman with Jones and Williams. She later told the police she had intended to have sex with another man for $300 once police identified themselves.
An investigation later revealed 250 Backpage.com postings related to the original advertisement.
Jones' sentencing marks his second conviction for sex trafficking. A Ramsey County judge convicted him in 2012 for trafficking an Iowa teens with Asperger's syndrome in 2012, according to court records.
Williams pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony aiding and abetting in the trafficking of an individual in May. He is scheduled for a jury trial August 14.
Jones shows remorse, judge skeptical
During an oral statement at the sentencing, Jones described his experience with homelessness, dropping out of high school, and a period of time in which he "gave up" and disregarded the value of "earning an honest living."
A father of two, Jones said he hopes to someday establish an outreach program for youth and adults at risk for becoming involved in sex trafficking.
"...My desire to change has never been so strong," Jones said at the hearing.
But District Judge Richard Ilkka said he felt Jones' statements were mostly "self-serving" before handing down the sentence.
"Jones could be whatever he wants to be," Ilkka said, but instead used his skills and knowledge to traffic victims for financial gain.
Imran Ali, the major crimes attorney who prosecuted the case, agreed.
Jones' sentencing marks his second conviction for sex trafficking, according to court records.
In 2012, a Ramsey County court found Jones guilty of trafficking an Iowa teens with Asperger's syndrome.
"In a case like this, it's important because the defendant had a prior sex trafficking conviction on his record and while on probation was trafficking two other individuals," Ali said. "That's noteworthy."
Transcripts from two jailhouse phone calls between Jones and the victim read during the hearing detailed Jones repeatedly asking her to write a letter to the court on his behalf. Jones told the woman to "Google how to write a statement" and to "make sure it's sincere."
The two ended each phone call by saying "I love you," according to court transcripts.
In a letter to the court, which was read aloud, the woman said Jones had been taking parenting classes and had previously been a stay-at-home dad with is two children.
He also plans to re-enroll in college classes, she wrote.
"Tyree has taken full responsibility for his actions, is focusing on the future and has created a plan to succeed," she wrote. "He has shown true and much remorse. … True remorse is never just regret over the consequence; it is regret over the motive."
Kathy Woxland, victims services coordinator with Washington County, said romantic relationships between victims and defendants are common in sex trafficking cases.
"Because of the enormous amount of manipulation that occurs to even start the trafficking of women, it's hard for a victim to be able to break those bonds," Woxland said.