MONROEVILLE, Pa. — A man has been arrested in connection to a multi-state sex trafficking ring, and investigators said three victims were found at a motel in Monroeville.
Donte Lashawn Cole, 38, was arrested in Ohio Friday morning and will be extradited back to Pennsylvania.
Attorney General Michelle Henry announced the arrest on Friday afternoon.
A news release said Cole is charged with recruiting at least three young women into a trafficking ring. One of the victims was a teenager and was recruited when she was just 12 years old.
The victims told investigators they were placed in motel rooms at the Rodeway Inn where they performed sex acts for money.
One of the victims told police that Cole used rental vehicles. Investigators discovered the car he was driving was rented from an Enterprise location in Ohio.
The same car was seen getting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and stopping at several locations before returning to the motel, according to court documents.
The victims told police they would send a man, identified as Cole, images of themselves to be posted in online advertisements.
The pictures would be used in advertisements on common websites used by traffickers and prostitutes to offer sex acts in exchange for money, police said.
Cell phone activity shows that a high volume of advertisements were posted online in various cities, including Cleveland, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina and Chicago, Illinois.
Court documents said the victims were expected to make between $600 and $700 each day.
“The defendant, like most traffickers, was methodical and calculated in how he chose his victims. These victims were vulnerable and, once under the defendant’s control, felt they had no means of escape,” Attorney General Henry said. “I commend my team and our partner agencies for exposing and halting this trafficking ring. It is another crucial step in pulling these crimes out of the shadows and into the light, where offenders are held accountable and victims can find the help they need.”
The attorney general’s office became aware of the operation during a drug investigation, and officials conducted a search at the motel on May 9.
When police searched one of the victim’s work and personal cell phones, they found payments made to Cole from customers for sex acts.
The phone also had conversations that showed the woman appeared to recruit other girls into the operation.
The victims were fearful that if they tried to leave, Cole would harm them.
Cole is facing multiple charges, including felony trafficking in individuals, corrupt organizations and dealing in proceeds from illegal activity.
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