A Columbus man accused who Franklin County prosecutors accused in 2019 of being the leader of a human trafficking ring that lured vulnerable women into prostitution with drugs is facing nine years behind bars on drug charges.
Samuel Lee Edwards, 52, of the city' Near East Side, pleaded guilty in October to 10 drug-related felony counts, including trafficking in drugs. Franklin County prosecutors dismissed eight other charges including trafficking in persons, compelling prostitution and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
Edwards had tried to take back his guilty plea, but Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Brown did not let him.
“I felt like if the truth was told, everyone who was involved in this case would also be let go,” Edwards said before his sentencing.
Brown sentenced Edwards Wednesday afternoon to nine years in prison, the sentence jointly recommended by prosecutors and defense counsel on the case.
Edwards maintained his innocence at the sentencing hearing. He said the entire investigation was biased and came about because of Columbus police officers’ misconduct.
Prosecutor: human trafficking charges are difficult to prove
Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Meyer told The Dispatch that human trafficking-related charges were dropped because they are difficult to prove. Of the three known victims in this case, two were reluctant to testify in court.
“Human trafficking situations are traumatic and very traumatic to relive on the witness stand,” he said.
Meyer said the victims were relieved Edwards pleaded to the drug charges and will be punished for something.
At his sentencing hearing, Meyer read a statement from one of the women Meyer said Edwards victimized and who would have testified had the case gone to trial.
“He destroyed everything about me: my self-esteem, my confidence, most of all, my self-worth,” the statement said. “Sam made me believe … that nobody would see me as anything more than a junkie who just wanted to get high. When I came to Ohio, I was two months clean and then I met Sam. The worst day of my life.”
Jim Gilbert, an attorney for Edwards, pointed out at the sentencing hearing that Edwards was only convicted on drug charges.
Nonetheless, Gilbert said the defense team spoke with women who received drugs from Edwards and they contradicted the statement Meyer read.
“He made (drugs) available to them. He did not make them take them,” Gilbert said. “Every one of the ones that we talked to said that Mr. Edwards never once threatened them, never coerced them, never hurt them … In fact, his goal was to try, in his way, to rehabilitate them.”
Five of six codefendants have taken plea deals
Six other people were indicted in connection with Edwards' crimes by Franklin County prosecutors in 2019. The alleged crimes spanned from January 2016 to July 2019.
Of those six codefendants, five have pleaded guilty to at least one charge and three have been sentenced.
Those defendants and where their cases stand are as follows:
• Elbert Louis Joiner, 54, of New Albany, pleaded guilty on Nov. 29, 2021 to promoting prostitution and attempting to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity. He was sentenced on Dec. 15, 2021 to four years in prison.
• Lamonte Anthony Rayford, 58, of the Southeast Side, pleaded guilty on July 2, 2020 to three counts of promoting prostitution. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 15.
• Troy Eugene Whitfield, 61, of the Northeast Side, has pleaded not guilty to 13 charges, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, trafficking in persons for commercial sex acts, compelling prostitution and drug possession charges. His trial is pending.
• Shelby Lynn Freeze, 30, of the Southeast Side, pleaded guilty on October 6, 2020 to attempting to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity and attempted abduction. Her sentencing hearing is pending.
• Rene Roderick Carter, 61, of Driving Park, pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to two counts of promoting prostitution. He was sentenced to time served. He spent over 1,000 days in jail.
• Shanteeia Anntoinette Harvey, 25, of Olde Towne East, pleaded guilty on Nov. 29, 2021 to one count of trafficking heroin. She was sentenced on Dec. 15, 2021 to two days in jail, which she had already served.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: A 9-year sentence on drug charges issued for accused human trafficker