RIVERSIDE – The leader of a gang-run prostitution ring that recruited girls as young as 15 years old in Riverside and surrounding cities to work the streets was sentenced today to 30 years in federal prison.
Paul Edward Bell, 30, of Lynwood pleaded guilty in January to sex trafficking charges in connection with the sex-for-money operation busted by local, state and federal law enforcement officials in July 2012.
In exchange for his plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office dropped charges of illegal possession of a firearm and conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips today certified the plea agreement and imposed the terms stipulated by the prosecution and defense.
Bell was among eight people convicted in the case, all but one of them affiliated with a Los Angeles-based Crips gang faction. He has two prior felony convictions in state court for sex trafficking.
The defendant was indicted alongside Kimberly Alberti, 21, of Riverside; Javiya Brooks, 21, of Lynwood; Kristy Harrell, 22, of Riverside; brothers Gary Rogers, 25, and Samuel Rogers, 24, both of Moreno Valley; Christopher Weldon, 24, of Compton; and Su Yan, 32, of Rosemead.
Yan, a Chinese national, was not a gang member but assisted with transporting girls across state lines, according to prosecutors. He, Alberti and Weldon have all been sentenced to terms ranging from 18 months to six years behind bars. Their co-defendants are slated to be sentenced later this month to similar multi-year terms.
All of the conspirators pleaded guilty before their scheduled trial dates.
According to prosecutors, seven girls between 15 and 17 years old were recruited into a street-level operation centered on Long Beach Boulevard in Compton. In several instances, victims were approached at their schools and enticed into working as prostitutes with the lure of basic amenities, including hairdos, nail jobs and free meals.
Bell acknowledged keeping four girls under his personal control.
”Bell admitted physically abusing one victim ‘for not performing as a prostitute and for acting up,”’ according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office sentencing memorandum. ”(Bell) not only used his fists, a cane, a shoe and other objects against the females; he pepper-sprayed one of the victims in her face. He also … put a gun to the head of one of the victims and locked at least two in his apartment.”
According to prosecutors, Alberti and Brooks were the ring’s ”lead” prostitutes. Alberti enrolled at a Riverside high school with the specific intent to initiate contact with prospects, authorities said.
The investigation was conducted by the Inland Empire Child Exploitation- Prostitution Task Force, comprised of personnel from the FBI, Riverside Police Department, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies.