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Richard Chin, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published January 09 2014

Record 40-year prison term handed out in St. Paul sex trafficking case

ST. PAUL – Otis Deno Washington had the unenviable fortune of beating his brother’s record Thursday in Ramsey County District Court.

Washington, 30, was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison for his involvement with his family’s Twin Cities sex trafficking and prostitution business that exploited teenage girls and women over a nearly two-year period.

It was the longest sentence imposed on a sex trafficking defendant in state history, according to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office.

The previous record holder was Washington’s brother, Antonio Dion Washington-Davis, who drew a sentence of nearly 36 years Dec. 19 for his involvement in the prostitution ring.

Two uncles of the Washington brothers, Robert James Washington, 56, and Calvin Roy Washington, 50, were also convicted of sex trafficking charges and got lesser sentences.

Otis Washington and his family were charged with prostituting 10 girls and women ranging in age from 15 to 40. The defendants placed hundreds of ads of the victims on websites such as Backpage.com.

A criminal complaint said the prostitution operation preyed on young, small women, some with mental disabilities.

The investigation of the prostitution ring began when the grandmother of a 15-year-old girl emailed St. Paul police in October 2012 saying the teenager had been the target of a group of sex traffickers operating out of a house.

Otis Washington was found guilty in November of two counts of promotion of prostitution, two counts of solicitation to practice prostitution – one involving a minor – and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.

The guilty verdicts came in a retrial of Washington after an earlier trial resulted in a hung jury this summer. Washington represented himself at both trials.

At sentencing Thursday, Washington continued to represent himself, but he largely refused to participate in the process.

Tyler Bliss, a lawyer appointed to be a stand-by counsel for Washington, said Washington would not meet with him.

When Judge Rosanne Nathanson noted that Washington refused to take part in a presentencing investigation, Washington said, “I don’t feel like I should be investigated by no one.”

He said the presentencing investigation violated his constitutional rights, and he declined Nathanson’s offer to let him review the results of the investigation before the sentence was handed down.

Prosecutor Dave Pinto argued that Washington deserved consecutive sentences for his convictions, noting the vulnerability of the victims and the sexual and physical violence Washington used to coerce them.

Wendy Assal, women’s coordinator for Breaking Free, an advocacy group for victims of sexual exploitation, also read a statement to the court before the sentencing.

“Otis Washington is a predator,” Assal said. “He preyed on young girls and disabled girls because they’re the most vulnerable. He did it to make money. He did it because others in his family did it. He did it because he didn’t see these women and girls as human beings, but as property, objects, products.”

In response, Washington said, “Do what you want to do.”

Nathanson said the presentencing investigation showed that Washington has been involved in the criminal justice system since he was 10.

“In a way we have failed you,” she said. But she also said Washington chose to ignore or showed disdain for programming that could have helped him.

Citing the multiple victims in the offenses, Nathanson agreed with prosecutors and gave Washington consecutive sentences that amount to 40 years and one month, with credit for 281 days already served. He will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and pay $836 in fees, fines and assessments.

“If you say so,” Washington responded.

Nathanson said it was sad that Washington would not accept responsibility for his actions.

“You can choose to change your heart and your behavior,” she told him. “It’s up to you.”

In a last act of defiance, Washington refused to accept some final paperwork from the court proceeding, documents regarding the cancellation of no-contact orders for his victims. He let the papers drop to the floor of the courtroom. When Bliss tried to hand him the papers again, he let them drop to the floor a second time.

“This landmark sentence, the longest to date in Minnesota, bolsters Ramsey County’s efforts to end the enslavement of young women and girls in the commercial sex trade in our community,” according to a statement from Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. “While we have sent a strong message to human traffickers of children for sex, our work is not done.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.