HAMMOND — A 42-year-old man was sentenced this week to life in prison for sex trafficking crimes in which he prostituted teen girls through Backpage.com and other means.
Ronnie C. Cosby, of Hammond, was sentenced Monday following a six-day jury trial conviction in September of one count of sex trafficking a minor, two counts of transporting a minor for prostitution and two counts of producing child pornography.
Cosby, first arrested in February 2015, is accused of prostituting two teenage girls between December 2014 and February 2015 out of his Hammond apartment and other locations.
Cosby allegedly met one victim — a homeless teenage girl — through Badoo, an online dating website. He met a second, age 15, through a friend, court records show.
Within a day, he offered her sexual services to men online in exchange for money, the release states. He took the girl from Hammond to a hotel in Lansing, where he and another person working at his direction "kept her under constant surveillance" while arranging for men to have sex with her at the hotel, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Indiana.
"Cosby took sexually explicit images of both minor victims using his mobile phone and uploaded the images to Backpage.com, a website he used to offer them up to strangers interested in paying for sex. Cosby also texted images of both victims to friends and repeat prostitution customers to drum up additional business," according to the USA's office.
The 15-year-old girl told federal investigators she had sexual relations with approximately 15 men during a period of several days at the motel, according to court records.
“Mr. Cosby engaged in horrific acts of sex trafficking involving minors. As demonstrated by the conviction and sentence in this case, such acts carry severe consequences for those who commit them," U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch said. "Sex trafficking and crimes involving minor victims will never be tolerated. My office and our law enforcement partners will continue to come after individuals who commit these horrible crimes to the fullest extent permitted by law.”
In a coordinated law enforcement operation last month, the Justice Department seized Backpage.com, the Internet’s leading forum for prostitution ads, including ads depicting the prostitution of children.
The chief executive of Backpage pleaded guilty to state and federal charges including conspiracy and money laundering, and agreed to testify in ongoing prosecutions against others at the website that authorities have dubbed a lucrative nationwide “online brothel,” according to the Associated Press.
Backpage brought in a half-billion dollars since it began in 2004, mostly though prominent risque advertising for escorts and massages, among other services and some goods for sale, according to the AP, citing federal prosecutors. Authorities allege the site was often used to traffic underage victims, while company officials said they tried to scrub the site of such ads.
Cosby's case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Hammond Police Department with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and members of the Northwest Indiana Human Trafficking Working Group. This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Abizer Zanzi and Jill Koster.