A man who forced a runaway 9th-grader into working as a prostitute and later tried to train an apprentice trafficker from prison was sentenced today to 17 to 34 years in prison, the office of D.A. Seth Williams announced.
Robert Spence, 46, has a lengthy rap sheet and was convicted in February of human trafficking, sexual exploitation of children, promoting prostitution of a minor and related charges after a bench trial before Judge Robert Coleman.
"Mr. Spence targeted and exploited runaway teenagers, who are one of the most vulnerable and invisible populations in our city," said prosecutor Rochelle Keyhan in a statement released by the D.A.'s office. "[Judge Coleman's] sentence has removed a true predator from our streets.”
Prosecutors said that Spence forced his 15-year-old victim to work nightly from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m., having sex with men for payments of $150.
Spence reportedly encountered the victim on the street after she ran away from home, convinced her to come to his home and then coerced her into work as a prostitute.
The victim's living conditions reportedly included only eating when Spence fed her, giving Spence all money earned through prostitution, wearing the clothing he bought her, and sleeping on crates in a corner of the room with another 16-year-old girl who Spence had also forced into prostitution.
The victim testified at trial that she did not leave Spence or alert authorities because he knew where her family lived and had threatened to kill her or her family if she fled.
Prosecutors said that Judge Coleman handed down a lengthy sentence in part on the grounds that Spence wrote a letter from prison to a younger man, who prosecutors called an "apprentice trafficker" in which he asked him to take over Spence's pimping operation.
"Urging his friend not to 'undermine his authority' with his 'bitches,' Spence acknowledged the victim’s young age and the amount he made from each of the girls he was selling," a statement released by prosecutors said. "The letter was recovered by a Corrections Officer before it left the prison."
Spence also received a harsh sentence for a record of escalating violence against women. Over the past decade, he was previously arrested for pimping children in New Jersey, convicted for domestic assault and stalking and arrested for rape.
Spence's defense attorney did not respond to a request for comment.