July 1, 2014: Today, the Honorable Robert Coleman sentenced 46 year old Robert Spence to 17-34 years in prison for trafficking a 15 year old girl into the sex trade. Judge Coleman previously convicted Spence Human Trafficking, Sexual Exploitation of Children, Interfering with the Custody of Children, Promoting Prostitution of a Minor, and Corrupting the Morals of a Minor charges during a bench trial in February, 2014.
The 15 year old victim met Spence after she ran away from home in the ninth grade. Meeting her on the street, Spence offered her a place to stay. Spence took her to his home and then coerced her into engaging in prostitution. He explained the rules: he would drive her to and from the street corners where she would work, he set her prices and hours, he collected all of her money and paid her nothing, she ate when he chose to feed her and she wore the clothes he bought for her. He set up crates in the corner of his bedroom for the victim and another 16-year-old girl to sleep on, both girls were working as prostitutes for Spence. He forced the 15-year-old victim to work on the streets from 8 pm to 7 am each night engaging in sex with men for $150 a trick. He threatened to kill her if she left or told anyone what they were doing. The victim testified that she was scared because Spence knew where her family lived and where she had previously attended school.
While incarcerated awaiting trial, Spence wrote a letter to a friend urging him to take over his “pimping” operation and run it while he gave directions from prison. 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. The letter was recovered by a Corrections Officer before it left the prison, and it immediately turned it over to the Commonwealth.
Today, at sentencing, the defense requested a 30 month period of incarceration with credit for time served, the Commonwealth fought hard against that request instead asking for an aggravated range consecutive sentence. The Commonwealth argued multiple aggravating factors, including:
• Spence’s escalating violence against women over the past decade, ranging from an arrest for promoting the prostitution of children in New Jersey, to a conviction for domestic assault and stalking, to an arrest for rape, and now this conviction for trafficking a teenage girl;
• That he dehumanized the women he trafficks, as illustrated in his letter to his protégé where he describes targeting women already marginalized and invisible, including homeless young girls living in factories and eating from trash cans;
• That he attempted to train an apprentice trafficker from prison while awaiting trial for human trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors, in effect creating a new generation of human traffickers.
Condemning Spence for preying on societies most vulnerable, and noting his blatant disregard for the law as he attempted to run his trafficking ring from prison, Judge Coleman sentenced Spence to a maximum of 34 years in prison and remarked in court, “The facts of this case make my blood boil.”
Assistant District Attorney Rochelle Keyhan who prosecuted the case stated, “Judge Coleman clearly recognized Mr. Spence targeted and exploited runaway teenagers, who are one of the most vulnerable and invisible populations in our city. His sentence has removed a true predator from our streets.”