Sex trafficking trial wrapping up in Nashville

KRISTIN M. HALL Associated Press Published:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A federal trial involving nine defendants accused of conspiring in a child sex trafficking ring involving Somali gangs is wrapping up in Nashville earlier than expected.

The defense attorneys for the defendants, most of whom are of Somali descent, rested their cases Tuesday, and closing arguments are expected to start Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors had expected the trial could take over a month, but after several last-minute delays, testimony has taken just over two weeks. At trial, the government has attempted to lay out a complicated case for a wide-ranging conspiracy among multiple defendants to use a young Somali refugee as a prostitute in suburban Minneapolis.

The unidentified witness, referred to in the indictment as Jane Doe No. 2, testified in court earlier this month that she was only in 6th grade when Somali gang members started using her to perform sexual acts for money. Later in the trial, prosecutors put on another witness identified as Jane Doe No. 5, who testified that young girls and women were being used as prostitutes in an apartment in Nashville.

The nine defendants are among a total of 30 defendants who were named in an original indictment unsealed in 2010 that claimed there was a ring of sexual trafficking of young girls operated by three Somali gangs that spanned from Minnesota, Ohio and Tennessee. The other defendants could face trial at a later date.

But defense attorneys tried to dismantle the government's case by noting that Jane Doe No. 2's exact age is unclear because her birth certificate was falsified. They also told jurors that the witness was a runaway and a "party girl" who willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face.

Her age is key to the government's case to prove conspiracy to commit sexual trafficking of children under the age of 18. Prosecutors used pictures of the witness in middle school in an attempt to show she was very young when the prostitution occurred.

Inaccurate birth dates on immigration paperwork are a common issue within the Somali refugee communities in the United States. Friends and family members also testified that they never witnessed anything unusual about the defendants.

Hibo Ibrahim Fahra, sister of one of the defendants, Idris Ibrahim Fahra, said through a translator she saw her brother everyday while they lived in the same apartment building in St. Paul and he would babysit her daughter. She said she never noticed any strange activity in his apartment.

Jane Doe No. 2 had previously testified that the gang members brought her to that apartment to have sex with men for money.