DES MOINES, Iowa – The first person to be convicted under Iowa's human trafficking law was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison.
Leonard Russell was found guilty of two counts of human trafficking, two counts of pandering and a count of ongoing criminal conduct during a September trial in Crawford County.
The 37-year-old was sentenced Monday in Crawford County District Court to 25 years on the ongoing criminal conduct charge, and 10 years on each of the other four charges — with all the sentences to be served concurrently. He was also fined $5,000.
Prosecutors said Russell, who has used addresses in Sioux City and Omaha, Neb., recruited and harbored two Nebraska girls last year for commercial sexual activity, including prostitution and performing at strip clubs. They said the girls, ages 15 and 16, were runaways.
Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement that the case helped officials understand that human trafficking is a much bigger problem in Iowa than many realized.
"It can be especially perilous for young people and disadvantaged kids, and it can occur in small towns," he said. "The underground nature of human trafficking makes it hard to fight, but the trafficking law is a valuable new tool and we will use it."
Iowa's human trafficking law took effect in 2006.
A telephone message The Associated Press left Monday afternoon with Russell's lawyer, Robert Brink in Denison, wasn't immediately returned.
During Russell's four-day trial in the western Iowa town of Denison, the girls testified that they met Russell in Omaha, Neb., on Aug. 20, 2007, after running away from a juvenile home in nearby Fremont, Neb. They claimed they were recruited by Russell with the help of a 19-year-old prostitute, Marcia Ryan, who was known to the teens as "Jazzie."
Prosecutors said the girls were taken to Davenport in far eastern Iowa, across the river to Rockford, Ill., and back to Denison.
The girls testified that they engaged in prostitution and performed at strip clubs including Big Earl's Key Club in Denison. They said they had to give the money they earned to Russell and Ryan in exchange for food, shelter, transportation and clothing.
The teens testified they were ashamed with what they were doing, but they felt they had nowhere else to go. One of the teens was with Russell for eight days, the other for 10 days, officials said.
An anonymous tip led police to rescue one of the girls at Big Earl's. The other was put on a bus to Washington, D.C., to meet with Russell's cousin and learn to solicit sex. Police in Washington rescued her there.
Ryan was arrested in Omaha on a warrant, and was charged with the same counts as Russell. Her case is continuing.