DES MOINES, Iowa – Marlin Santana Thomas, age 45, of Des Moines pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to sex trafficking six victims by force, fraud, and coercion announced Acting United States Attorney Richard D. Westphal. Thomas is scheduled to be sentenced on September 10, 2021, before United States District Court Chief Judge John A. Jarvey.
Thomas pleaded guilty to sex trafficking six adult victims and admitted to trafficking a 14 year-old victim. Thomas admitted in his plea agreement to trafficking victims beginning in 2009, and as recently as February 28, 2018, when he was arrested as part of a separate federal drug investigation, for which he is currently serving a term of federal imprisonment. Thomas admitted to posting online escort advertisements of victims, transporting them to hotels and motels within and outside of Iowa to engage in commercial sex acts, and taking proceeds of the commercial sex acts. Thomas admitted to using physical violence towards all six adult victims, and admitted to providing heroin to one victim to keep her engaging in sex acts. Thomas also admitted in his plea agreement to arranging for a 14-year-old to engage in commercial sex acts, knowing that she was not yet 18 years old.
Thomas is subject to a fifteen-year mandatory minimum prison term for each count of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, up to life imprisonment. The terms of imprisonment may be imposed consecutive to or concurrent with one another.
Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of youth under the age of 18 for commercial sex; the exploitation of adults for commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion; and the exploitation of any individual for compelled labor. Human trafficking does not require the transportation of individuals across state lines, or that someone is physically restrained. Signs that a person is being trafficked can include working excessively long hours, unexplained gifts, physical injury, substance abuse issues, running away from home, isolation from others, or having a person in their life controlling them or monitoring them closely. Victims particularly susceptible to being trafficked include those with criminal histories, a history of physical or sexual abuse, uncertain legal status, and dependency on controlled substances. Individuals who purchase sex from minors or from those who are otherwise exploited for commercial sex are also subject to prosecution for sex trafficking under federal law, if they knew or were in reckless disregard of the fact that they were under the age of 18, or that force, fraud, or coercion was used.
Anyone who suspects human trafficking is occurring, be it a minor engaging in paid sex acts, or anyone being coerced into prostitution or labor, is urged to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. If anyone has information about this defendant, they are urged to call the Des Moines Police Department Vice/Narcotics Office at 515-237-1516, or call the Hotline.
This case was investigated by the Des Moines Police Department and prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa.