PEORIA – A Springfield man who held drug addict women hostage in Champaign motel rooms and forcing them to engage in sexual acts for cash in his pocket was sentenced to life in prison.
An investigation into Franshon Stapleton, 48, that began in the fall of 2017 with a lead from Crime Stoppers to Urbana police, culminated in his conviction in a federal courtroom in Peoria on Friday despite protesting his innocence after hearing overwhelming evidence for the police had presented opposite.
At the end of a five-hour hearing, Judge James Shadid said anything but life in prison would ignore the damage Stapleton had caused the victims, his lack of remorse and the guidelines for sentencing.
U.S. assistant attorneys Elly Peirson and Ryan Finlen had prosecuted Stapleton since his indictment in May 2018. Stapleton has been imprisoned since then. After going through several court-appointed attorneys, Stapleton informed the judge last summer that he wanted to represent himself.
On September 28, when his trial was due to begin, he pleaded guilty to four sex trafficking cases and about a dozen other allegations of conspiracy and extortion related to cell phone and internet use as instruments of international trade in his business.
The federal condemnation guidelines called for a life sentence, which Finlen Stapleton said deserved. It did so after Peirson presented evidence to the judge from a Stapleton business associate, police and impact assessments from two of his victims.
Kamaal Dudley, 29, testified that he worked for Stapleton, who ran the prostitution business for women from Champaign, Sangamon and Peoria counties from motel rooms in Champaign.
Stapleton first advertised on the BackPage.com website before the Justice Department closed it in April 2018.
Dudley explained how the operation worked, how much money was flowing through it, and how much Stapleton paid him. He said he and Stapleton communicated over dozen of text messages every day, all of which were business-related.
Urbana Police Officer Mike Cervantes testified about his role in the investigation into Stapleton, which was stopped by Urbana Police in mid-November 2017 after a Crime Stopper tip about driving prostitutes to and from hotels in Champaign and Urbana in a particular SUV was.
Information in the first federal complaint said that when Stapleton was discontinued, police found about 5 grams of cocaine, more than $ 4,900 in cash, drug paraphernalia, several hundred condoms and four cell phones. Cocaine possession led to a state charge against Stapleton that was only dismissed three weeks ago after his federal sex trafficking trial.
Using data from the cell phones of Stapleton, Dudley and Katelyn Curtis, 27, who also lived with Dudley and worked for Dudley, police linked several text messages to prostitution advertisements on the BackPage.
The phone numbers uncovered by police included one of a champagne police officer who later retired from the unit and pleaded guilty in December 2018 of committing a sexual act solicitation for parole.
Cervantes said when interviewing Stapleton in May 2018, Stapleton denied running the prostitution business and said he received a lot of money from men who paid him to have sex with him. Cervantes said police had found no evidence to support the claim.
However, the police had received information from women who worked for Stapleton that he was giving them heroin and / or crack cocaine, groceries and a small amount of cash on a daily basis in exchange for having sex with multiple clients on a daily basis. He kept the money.
If they needed more drugs than he was handing out, he would force them to have more sex with clients in order to pay for them. The women said he threatened and sometimes physically abused them to get them to have sex.
Mike Mitchell, a federal agent who works for Homeland Security on Stapleton’s activities, also testified on Friday.
Dudley and Curtis have also been prosecuted for their roles in Stapleton’s business and pleaded guilty to conspiracy and aiding and abetting extortion. Dudley was sentenced to 46 months in prison in June 2020 and Curtis to three years in prison in December 2019.
In October, after Stapleton pleaded guilty, Shadid cut both terms to the time they were serving because of their “substantial support” for the government.