A federal jury in Tennessee on Friday convicted three Minnesota men for their role in an interstate sex trafficking ring run mostly by Somali gang members. Six others were acquitted of all charges.
The nine defendants were among 30 people -- most from the Twin Cities -- charged in connection with a human trafficking ring that sold Somali girls into prostitution over the course of a decade, authorities say.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for five days before returning a split verdict in the case's first trial. The remaining defendants could face trial, although nothing has been scheduled.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent said Friday's verdict shows that the jury found that sex trafficking did occur. He added that the government will continue to prosecute these kinds of cases.
"It's very important for victims to understand that you can come forward, people will listen and that people can believe what you have to say about the crime," he said.
A Minnesota Somali witness identified only as Jane Doe No. 2 testified that she was used as a prostitute by gang members starting at age 12. She wept as she described being taken to suburban Twin Cities apartments to have sex with Somali men for money.
In a phone interview with the Star Tribune, she said she was "very excited and happy" about the verdict.
"I'm just glad that justice was served," she said. "The people who were acquitted, I don't think they should have been. But it's up to the jury. I'm just glad that the truth is out and that I can be an advocate."
Idris Ibrahim Fahra, Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf were found guilty of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children. Fahra also was found guilty of sexually trafficking children.
Those acquitted were Ahmad Abdulnasir Ahmad, Musse Ahmed Ali, Fatah Haji Hashi, Dahir Nor Ibrahim and Mohamed Ahmed Amalle and Faduma Mohamed Farah.
In an indictment unsealed in 2010, investigators accused members of the Somali Outlaws, Somali Mafia and Lady Outlaws gangs with running a prostitution business that included credit card fraud and burglary totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Their alleged crimes crossed state lines, the indictment said, as girls were driven from the Twin Cities to Nashville to Columbus, Ohio, to perform sex acts for money, liquor or marijuana.
During the trial in Nashville, covered by the Associated Press, prosecutors said Fahra, an Ethiopian native with the nickname "Chi Town," rented a St. Paul apartment in 2006 that was used for the sex trafficking of Jane Doe No. 2, then in the seventh grade.
Andrew Kayachitch, a U.S. citizen nicknamed "AK," transported Jane Doe No. 2 in his vehicle for the purpose of sex trafficking.
He and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf, nicknamed "Junior," were detained in Nashville by police along with Jane Doe No. 2. Yusuf, according to prosecutors, traveled with her to Nashville in May 2007 and in April 2009 to engage in sex trafficking of Jane Doe No. 2.
Yusuf's attorney, David Komisar, told the Associated Press that his client was disappointed by the verdict. "He maintains his innocence, and we don't think that there was proof that Jane Doe 2 was underage in April 2009," he said.
Defense attorneys contended that the witness willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face. They also repeatedly questioned whether Jane Doe No. 2 was a juvenile at the time the sex acts occurred, because prosecutors revealed on the eve of trial that her birth certificate was falsified. But Vincent said the jury determined she was under 18.
The trial was held in Nashville and not in Minnesota because the U.S. attorney's office in Tennessee chose to take on the complex case. Two years ago, the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota, then led by Frank Magill, declined to prosecute it. Magill told the Star Tribune in 2011 that he does not remember the case "bubbling up to me." The current U.S. attorney for Minnesota, B. Todd Jones, said in 2011 that the case was declined because evidence at the time supported a state prosecution, not a federal case.
Reaction among those who work with human trafficking victims was mixed.
Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali community activist who works with anti-trafficking groups, said that when the charges first came to light, many local Somalis did not believe human trafficking was a problem here. "If ... people were found guilty, that sends a message that this is not a joke. This is a fact that is happening to us," he said.
Linda Miller, executive director of Civil Society, a St. Paul group that works with trafficking victims, called the split decision "unfortunate."
"The community is going to continue to be confused on this issue of what actually happened," she said.
But Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery Tennessee, an anti-trafficking group, saw the three convictions as good news.
"It will hopefully send a message to other traffickers that they can't assume that they could get away with what they've done," she said. "I hope it will send a message to survivors that it's worthwhile to go through the arduous process of giving testimony. You might actually protect other young women from having to go through the same thing you did."
This article contains material from the Associated Press. Allie Shah • 612-673-4488