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Man faces 54-count indictment after Lorain County's first human trafficking investigation

Posted at 4:02 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 19:06:21-04

LORAIN, OH — It started with one woman deciding to take a stand. Now the Lorain County Prosecutor says 35-year-old Steven Gilbert is in custody and facing a 54-count indictment after the county's first-ever human trafficking investigation.

Lorain County Prosecutor J.D. Tomlinson announced the indictment Friday. He said the investigation got off the ground when a female prostitute came to police to file rape charges. After an investigation that lasted for several months involving multiple agencies, they had uncovered as many as nine victims in the case, Tomlinson said.

Here’s a breakdown of the charges Gilbert is facing:

•3 counts of Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity
•9 counts of Trafficking in Persons
•7 counts of Compelling Prostitution
•7 counts of Promoting Prostitution
•14 counts of Rape
•6 counts of Sexual Battery
•4 counts of Kidnapping
•1 count of Aggravated Robbery
•3 counts of Money Laundering

According to the indictment, Gilbert, along with others, “preyed upon” women who were addicted to narcotics in order to “recruit, lure and entice” them into becoming prostitutes. He allegedly rented motel rooms for the women, which they had to help pay for, and forbade them from buying narcotics from anyone but him. He would keep them under his control, the indictment alleges, by withholding narcotics or sometimes by use of physical force. It adds Gilbert was also known to be regularly armed with a gun and accuses him of opening a business “in order to launder his illegitimate money.”

This human trafficking investigation was one of three that the Lorain County Prosecutor was involved in this year. In another case, Tomlinson said, a man had been trafficking his wife for five years. In all, 22 people have been arrested this year.

“Throughout these investigations, I have been profoundly moved by witnessing the plight of human trafficking victims,” he said. “Human trafficking is facilitated entirely by violence, threats of violence, and manipulation. For the victims of human trafficking, there is no life, no future, only endless drug addiction and an abusive master-slave relationship with their traffickers.”

Tomlinson also cautioned any potential “Johns” against assuming any sex workers are in it voluntarily. He said the line between prostitution and human trafficking is very thin and blurry. Someone might believe they’re meeting a willing participant, but “they’re supporting an industry that they have no idea what’s really going on. That individual that you meet in that hotel room, you have no idea whether that individual’s trafficked or not. So the idea that it’s a consensual encounter, I think evidence would refute that.”

Tomlinson said Gilbert’s alleged victims were first connected to medical care, then social services. They have a long road to recovery ahead of them but are already making strides.

“It’s quite inspiring,” he said of one woman’s willingness to stand against her alleged trafficker.

Tomlinson said his work isn’t done. If you are a victim or know anyone else who is, he asked that you call his investigators at 440-329-5166.

The human trafficking investigation that resulted in Gilbert's arrest involved members of the Lorain County Drug Task Force, Lorain County Sheriff’s Department, Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, Elyria Police Department and the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Investigative Unit, Tomlinson said.

Watch Tomlinson's news conference below:

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