A Durham man convicted for human trafficking has been sentenced to life in person for trafficking a group of women for sex acts in 2021 and 2022.
Chester Wallace, 62, was convicted July 14 of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, threats of force, fraud, and coercion and five counts of using force, threats of force, fraud, and coercion to cause five victims to engage in commercial sex acts, according to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina.
He was sentenced to six life terms on Thursday, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
Wallace and his accomplice, Leslie Chevonne Stout, ran a human trafficking ring out of a house on Middle Street in eastern Durham from July 2021 until late spring of 2022.
They lured five women who were homeless or struggling with drug addiction to the house, just a few blocks north from Durham Technical Community College. They promised them drugs and housing, the news release said.
Once there, prosecutors said that the women were given “house rules” and were forced to do commercial sex work for Wallace and Stout, who posted the women’s photos to classified ads on “hook up” websites.
Women who tried to run away were found and forced back into the house by Wallace or others.
“Today’s sentencing handed down just punishment, and it brings to an end the cruel and inhumane misogyny perpetrated by this defendant,” said United States Attorney Sandra Hairston in a news release. “We deeply appreciate the diligent law enforcement officers and prosecutors who worked on the case. Their efforts prevent the defendant and his co-defendant from claiming more victims and provide a measure of justice which we hope will allow the victims to begin healing from this terrible ordeal.”
Wallace was previously arrested and charged in March 2022 with human trafficking charges following a long-term investigation. His bond had been set at $10 million.
Wallace was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $68,000.
Stout pleaded guilty for conspiracy last month, according to a news release, and will be sentenced next July.
The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Durham Police Department, with help from the DHS Center.
Human trafficking in NC
There were 260 cases of human trafficking in the state reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2020. This put North Carolina in the top 10 in the country for reported cases.
The North Carolina Department of Administration classifies trafficking by three categories: sex trafficking, labor trafficking and domestic servitude.
The department says a number of factors have contributed to North Carolina being a top state for human trafficking: major interstate highways crossing the state, a “large and transient military population,” rural parts of the state where there’s demand for cheap agricultural labor, and an increase in gang activity.
If you or anyone you know are a victim of human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or send a text to 233733.