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Social media used against man who lured rural SC women to Atlanta for sex trafficking

‘No daylight between us.’ Why SC woman searches the streets for sex trafficking victims

Beth Messick searches the darkest corners of Greenville, SC for human trafficking victims. Inspired by her love for the community, she founded Jasmine Road, a housing program that helps victims heal and create a new life.
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Beth Messick searches the darkest corners of Greenville, SC for human trafficking victims. Inspired by her love for the community, she founded Jasmine Road, a housing program that helps victims heal and create a new life.

An Atlanta man lured two young women from rural South Carolina with promises of a lavish and lucrative lifestyle, then forced them into prostitution while abusing them when they didn’t meet his demands, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in northern Georgia.

On April 23, U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans sentenced Quintavious Obie, 32, to 21 years and six months in prison for sex trafficking and witness tampering followed by 10 years of supervised release. The case illuminates the underworld of human trafficking and the cruelty of the crime.

Court transcripts show the role social media plays in crimes against teenaged girls and how prosecutors used Obie’s social media postings against him.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, and the threats and abuse inflicted on these particular victims only adds to the heinous nature of the crime,” said Nick S. Annan, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta. “HSI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to find and prosecute criminal traffickers while ensuring the victims of this terrible crime are rescued and get the care they need.”

In 2015, family members of a young South Carolina woman feared she was caught up in an Atlanta sex trafficking ring, according to testimony from Homeland Security Investigator Stuart Reagan during a December 2017 hearing.

FBI agents found the woman and talked to her in 2016, Reagan told the court. She’d fled Obie, she said, after being forced into sex work from October 2015 to January 2016.

Obie gave her a job at an Atlanta strip club and prostituted her through the website Backpage, according to court records. He made her turn over all her money from selling herself and stripping. When she didn’t have money to hand over to Obie, he beat and tortured her. Before she ran away, he assaulted her for not having any money to give and forced her to sit in a bathtub of ice-filled water, Reagan said.

In January, Obie pleaded guilty to a sex trafficking charge in connection with the case, court records show. He also pleaded guilty to a second count of forcing a South Carolina woman into prostitution for six months in 2017. The indictments don’t elaborate about what county or town the women were from.

“Obie lured his victims into prostitution and after he was arrested continued to harass and intimidate them,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak.

When a grand jury indicted Obie on the sex trafficking charges in January 2018, he began trying to stop the women he’d victimized from testifying against him, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. He made other people call and text his victims, making the women retract their statements to law enforcement to try to get his case dismissed.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit witness tampering.

Reagan’s 2017 court testimony reveals how Obie entrapped and held women and how he bragged about his actions on social media.

Two underage teenagers met Obie on Instagram, communicated with him and traveled to a suburb of Atlanta to get together with him, Reagan told the court. The records don’t give their exact ages.

“[The teens] stated that they wanted to become dancers,” Reagan said. “They were enamored of the lifestyle that [Obie] displayed on his Instagram account.”

When Obie realized they were underage, he gave them over to a relative who had spent eight years in prison for “pimping a minor” and had been released on parole, Reagan testified.

Obie posted on Instagram about the money he made trafficking women and the ways he controlled them, the court transcript showed.

In one post, Obie was pictured with two women in a nightclub and wrote “you try and knock one my hos, I’ll take ya whole stable, jack,” which Reagan explained meant that if someone tried to take a way a girl held by Obie, that Obie would steal all the girls from the pimp who was trying to take his.

In another post, Obie was inside a liquor store counting cash and posted “knocking hos and checking dough, paperwork,” which meant he was recruiting new women and counting the money he’s earned, Reagan explained. Other Instagram posts showed Obie with more cash, despite the Atlanta man not having a job.

Obie’s defense argued he never told the two teenaged girls that they would be working as prostitutes or strippers for him and that, while unconventional, he made money off his social media presence, influencing people to come to clubs, promotions for which businesses paid him. They also countered that Obie’s use of the word “ho” was colloquial, that the term didn’t strictly refer to women being forced into prostitution

Reagan also told the courts about an Instagram post in which Obie showed off a tracking app for his car and talked about how he tracked “girls without them knowing.”

Authorities searched an apartment connected to Obie, according to Reagan — a room that Obie posted a picture of, again on Instagram. In the photo, a woman sits on a bed while in the corner of the ceiling, looking down on the woman, a surveillance camera is mounted.

Reagan said that picture showed Obie could “watch what his girls are doing. That he can keep tabs on them.”

According to experts, it's important to understand the differences between prostitution, which is voluntary, and sex trafficking, which can trap victims with involuntary sex work.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.