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Woman ‘lured’ by man’s romance and gifts forced into disturbing prostitution hustle: prosecutors

An Ohio man was sentenced to more than three years in prison for coercing a homeless woman into prostitution “countless times,” including across state lines, after sparking a romantic relationship with the woman, prosecutors say. 

“He exploited (the woman) when she was vulnerable and lured her in with romance and gifts, hallmarks of a genuine relationship,” prosecutors said of 41-year-old Leon Sims, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. “He then sold (her) for money countless times over a period of months, keeping the earnings for himself.”

Sims was sentenced to 37 months in prison last week for the engagement of interstate prostitution, a violation of the Mann Act, the Department of Justice said in a press release Tuesday. 

Police first encountered Sims in December 2020, when the Boone County Sheriff’s Office in Kentucky responded to an online advertisement for prostitution. An undercover deputy arranged to meet up with a woman through the advertisement at a local Holiday Inn, where the woman ultimately informed law enforcement she was driven to the lodging facility by Sims, according to prosecutors. 

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Deputies found Sims sitting in a car outside the hotel, and the woman told police that Sims had for months been arranging meet-ups for the woman to engage in prostitution. 

Sims was romantically involved with the woman starting in early 2020, according to prosecutors, and gave the woman presents as she struggled with homelessness. He later allegedly demanded she repay him for the gifts, and ordered she pull in $1,000 a day or face punishment. 

“Specifically, (Sims) threatened to prevent her from sleeping or eating if she did not comply,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 

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Prosecutors said that from October 2020 to January 2021, Sims arranged to send the woman across Ohio, Kentucky – and even to California – to meet up with johns for sex. Sims reportedly brandished a gun at the woman when she pushed back against traveling to California for prostitution. Sims was also accused of repeatedly pressuring the woman into having sex with him and using physical force against her. 

Judge holding gavel

“Subsequent investigation revealed that, from at least October 2020 through January 2021, Sims arranged prostitution activities for the victim using online advertisements, managed those activities, communicated with prostitution customers and kept the profits from the prostitution appointments. During the course of managing the victim’s prostitution activities, Sims transported the victim from Kentucky to both Ohio and California for the purpose of prostitution,” the DOJ said in its press release last week. 

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“At sentencing, it was determined that Sims used fraud or coercion to get the victim to participate in prostitution including verbal threats, withholding basic necessities, and false promises.”

Sims’ attorney had argued that Sims did drive the woman across state lines to engage in prostitution but denied his client ever forced her into having sex for money.  The lawyer added that the woman bailed Sims out of jail when he was first arrested in December 2020. 

a stock photo of a prostitute

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“However, despite knowing Mr. Sims only a few months, she did not take the opportunity to inform law enforcement of any dangerous or unwanted situation she had found herself in, nor did she take advantage of an opportunity to ‘escape’ Mr. Sims while he was arrested and incarcerated and she was not,” the attorney wrote, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. 

The attorney added that the woman spoke to authorities regarding Sims to receive favorable treatment. 

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Sims moved to California following his 2020 arrest, before moving to Las Vegas in 2022. Meanwhile, new charges such as human trafficking were filed in Boone County, Kentucky, in February 2021. Authorities in Las Vegas in January 2022 discovered Sims had an active warrant in Kentucky and took him into custody. 

He has been in custody since January 2022. The Boone County charges were dropped this year after Sims was federally indicted, the Cincinatti Enquirer reported. 

Sims must fulfill 85% of his sentence under federal law and will be monitored by authorities for three years following his prison release.

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