A Gastonia, N.C., man was convicted in federal court in Columbia Friday on eight counts including sex trafficking, child pornography and illegal firearms.
Samuel Pratt, 34, who was arrested in Columbia, ran a sex trafficking business that operated in South Carolina, North Carolina and New York, prosecutors said.
His mother, Daphne Pratt, earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sex traffic children in the case, said U.S. Attorney Beth Drake in a news release.
During the four-day trial, witnesses testified about the manipulation and abuse involved in sex trafficking operations at work in the Carolinas that included children as young as 14 years old, Drake said.
Never miss a local story.
Samuel Pratt was arrested in February at a motel on Two Notch Road in Columbia after an undercover string operation. It began, prosecutors say, when FBI agents in Charlotte alerted Richland County authorities about an ad on Backpage.com that advertised a young girl associated with Pratt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim May said during opening arguments Tuesday that Pratt was arrested with a 15-year-old girl. A team of officers met with the victim while a second team spoke with Pratt, May said. A warrant to search Pratt’s phone revealed nude pictures of a teen girl that were taken at the motel in the days before the sting and posted on the Backpage ad.
Samuel Pratt will be sentenced at a future date by U.S. District Judge Terry Wooten. He could face life in prison if given the maximum penalty on five of the counts on which he was convicted, Drake said.
May called human trafficking “a real problem.” He cautioned jurors about the “distasteful” material they would see throughout the trial, including testimony from law enforcement and experts that shows Pratt’s alleged manipulation and abuse of vulnerable young girls.
“This case is about the defendant’s greed, his manipulation, his thoughts that he’s better than other people,” he said. “We’re here because that man ... sold a 14-year-old child and a 17-year-old child to strangers for 15 minutes apiece.”
Reporter Teddy Kulmala contributed.