United States Attorney Joe Kelly announced that on August 12, 2020, after a three-day trial, a federal jury convicted Devin L. Ashford, 33, of Lincoln, Nebraska, of Sex Trafficking of a Minor; Sex Trafficking by Force, Fraud, or Coercion; Production of Child Pornography; and Interstate Transportation for Prostitution. The jury was the first in federal court in Lincoln since jury trials were suspended due to COVID-19. Chief United States District Judge John M. Gerrard presided over the trial and accepted the jury’s verdict before setting Ashford’s sentencing hearing for November 13, 2020, at 10:30 a.m. At sentencing, Ashford faces mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years on three of the counts and a statutory maximum of life on one count.
Numerous victims testified at trial that Ashford beat, starved, and pushed cocaine on them to get them to provide sexual services. Ashford recruited minors to engage in commercial sex acts so that he could get the financial proceeds from those acts. The evidence at trial showed that at least three of the minors were children who had either run away from home or were in the foster care system when Ashford targeted them for his trafficking operation. Ashford was also convicted of producing child pornography when he enticed one of his victims to send sexually explicit photos of herself.
United States Attorney Kelly said, “These terrible crimes occur closer to home than we would care to imagine. The jury’s verdict sends a strong message to anyone who exploits others in sex trafficking minors or adults that their actions will not be tolerated and will be fully prosecuted.”
FBI Omaha’s Special Agent in Charge, Kristi Johnson, said, “The victims of these crimes are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. FBI Omaha agents work closely with our local, state and federal partners to identify human traffickers. We will continue to disrupt their activity in the areas we serve.”
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Lincoln Police Department.