A Missoula man accused of using women and bringing teenage girls to Montana for prostitution went on trial before a jury in U.S. District Court in Billings on Monday.
Terrance Tyrell Edwards, 35, faces 10 counts including sex trafficking by force or coercion, obstruction, a drug charge and witness tampering.
Edwards’ co-defendant, Francine Joann Granados, 32, of Moorhead, Minnesota, faces one count of witness tampering.
Federal prosecutors say Edwards trafficked in women for prostitution in Missoula and Billings from about March to September 2016.
Police arrested Edwards outside a Billings hotel in September 2016 shortly after he had returned to Billings with three teenage girls he had recruited from North Dakota and Minnesota. Prosecutors also say Edwards gave the girls marijuana.
Edwards, prosecutors said, posted ads soliciting sex with women on a website, set the rates for the sex and took all or some of the money from the women.
Edwards’ attorney, Palmer Hoovestal of Helena, said Edwards will testify in his own defense that he had no intent prostituting women.
In an opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cyndee Peterson said Edwards had a pattern of meeting women who needed money or with whom he had romantic relationship and then forcing them into prostitution though threats and violence.
Edwards used “rules” to control the women and hit them when they didn’t follow his instructions, Peterson said.
Edwards told some of the victims to call him “Daddy” and hit them when they didn’t, the prosecutor said.
Edwards also “backhanded” a victim for “reckless eyeballing” another man who was not a customer, Peterson said.
Hoovestal told the jury in his opening statement that Edwards was running a legal escort service and not providing sex for money.
An escort service, Hoovestal said, provides companionship for lonely men who “hunger and want female companionship.”
Edwards told the women not to have sex and not to do anything they didn’t want to do, Hoovestal said.
After making money by being an escort, the women wanted more money and got tips they didn’t share with Edwards, Hoovestal said.
Edwards had romantic relationships with some of the women and that he thought having them call him “Daddy” was “funny,” Hoovestal said.
Edwards did hit one woman in the face, but it wasn’t to coerce sex, he said.
Granados’ attorney, Brian Fay of Bozeman, said Granados got a call from Edwards, who was an old friend, after he got arrested. Edwards told Granados repeatedly that he had done nothing wrong and was being falsely accused.
Granados contacted one of the women on Edwards’ behalf but did not try to have her change her story.
The trial, held in U.S. District Judge Susan Watters' court, is expected to last eight to 10 days. Prosecutors have said they plan to call about 28 witnesses.
If convicted on the sex trafficking counts, Edwards faces a minimum mandatory 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Edwards has two prior felony prostitution arrests in Missoula. He had a suspended sentence revoked 2012 and was sentenced to five years in Montana State Prison.