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Commonwealth v. Steed

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

June 11, 2019

COMMONWEALTH
v.
CHARLES STEED.

          Heard: April 9, 2019.

         The cases were tried before Merita A. Hopkins, J.

          Adam Us for the defendant.

          Caitlin Lyta Gemmill, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Green, C.J., Sullivan, & Ditkoff, JJ.

          GREEN, C.J.

         On appeal from his convictions of trafficking of persons for sexual servitude and deriving support from the earnings of a prostitute, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the latter charge, because police placed him under arrest before he received any portion of the money paid by an undercover officer to a prostitute for sexual services as part of a "sting" operation. On the evidence in the case before us, we conclude that the interruption of the transaction before the defendant gained physical possession of his share of the proceeds does not bar his conviction on a charge of deriving support from a prostitute, as a share of the money was his, by prior arrangement, as soon as it was paid by the officer to one of the women trafficked by the defendant. Discerning in the defendant's other claims[1] no cause to disturb the judgments, we affirm.

         Background.

         We summarize the evidence the jury could have found, viewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. See Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 676-677 (1979).

         On January 12, 2017, a police sergeant with the Woburn Police Department began an undercover investigation into human trafficking. The officer began the investigation by locating an advertisement on Backpage.com, an "online classified" services website frequently used to advertise escort services. The officer's attention was drawn to a particular advertisement because it involved a telephone number that he recognized from another investigation. The advertisement contained images of two females and offered a "two girl special." The advertisement gave two telephone numbers, one ending in 7659 and one ending in 6078, to contact the women to arrange a meeting. The advertisement was labeled with a unique Backpage.com "Post ID" of 37877418. The officer then prepared an undercover operation to contact the women in the advertisement. He called and texted both numbers but received a response only from the 6078 number; the officer then arranged a "date" with the person on the other end of that telephone number.[2] He arranged to meet two women for the price of $500 at a hotel in Woburn that evening.

         The defendant drove two women, D.M. and V.G., to the designated Woburn hotel to meet the officer. While en route, D.M. communicated with the officer by cell phone to let him know that she and V.G. were on their way to the hotel. The defendant provided the women with condoms to bring on the date. The defendant was nervous about the date and insisted that D.M. ask the officer to send a "dick pic" to her to verify that he was not a police officer.[3] D.M. then text messaged a photograph of herself and V.G. to the officer.[4]

         The defendant dropped the two women off at the designated hotel in Woburn, where the officer was waiting. The officer gave D.M. $500 in cash and discussed what he wanted them to do. D.M. placed the $500 in her purse and sent a text message to the defendant saying, "We're good," meaning that she had the money. At that point, the officer signaled to other officers waiting in adjoining hotel rooms, and they began interviewing V.G. and D.M.

         Both women gave the officers their cell phones and consented to searches of those cell phones. Through their interviews with V.G. and D.M., the officers were able to identify the other woman in the January 12, 2017, Backpage.com advertisement as O.S. All three women testified at trial pursuant to a grant of immunity.

         V.G. was present at the encounter at the Woburn hotel. She met the defendant approximately two years prior to trial while homeless in Boston; the defendant saw her, pulled his car over, offered her "crack" cocaine, and gave her his cell phone number. She knew the defendant by the nicknames "Rick," "Tyreki," and "Cash." The "next time" she saw the defendant, she began working for him as a prostitute. In exchange for her services, the defendant fed her cocaine and heroin addiction. The defendant told her they "could make money," "took [her] to a store and bought [her] new clothes, took [her] to a house and gave [her] a shower[, ] [a]nd put an ad on Backpage." The defendant posted advertisements for V.G.'s sexual services online on Backpage.com; she witnessed him post those advertisements, which referred to her as "Honey," the nickname he gave her, "on multiple occasions." She also saw the defendant pay for the advertisements on multiple occasions using "a prepaid card." The defendant gave V.G. a cell phone on which customers could contact her to arrange a date. The defendant also arranged hotel rooms for V.G. to meet with customers and drove her to those ...


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