Two indicted in sex trafficking operation

A Zachary man and a Greenwell Springs woman are under indictment on federal sex-trafficking charges in an alleged prostitution operation that involved multiple prostitutes, including a teenage girl, interim U.S. Attorney Walt Green said Monday.

Jeremie J. Tate, 32, and Roxanne R. Merritt, 21, allegedly conspired together and with others to promote Tate’s prostitution business, Green announced in a prepared statement.

The indictment says Tate enticed a prostitute who worked for him to travel from Baton Rouge to Las Vegas to engage in prostitution.

Tate used intimidation and manipulation to ensure he received most of the proceeds earned by his prostitutes, Green stated.

Sex trafficking is one of the highest priorities of this office and the entire U.S. Department of Justice,” he said.

A tip from a Baton Rouge hotel employee led to Tate’s arrest in September. He faces state charges stemming from that arrest.

An undercover investigation by local and state authorities led them that month to a 16-year-old girl and a 19-year-old woman who say they were forced into having sex with multiple men daily in exchange for money they paid directly to their pimp — Tate.

The woman told authorities she had worked for Tate for several months. The girl had worked for him for only several days, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Both said they were forced to give all of the money they made directly to Tate.

The girl told authorities she wanted to escape her situation but Tate would not let her leave. The woman gave similar statements, adding he had physically assaulted her when she tried to leave in the past, the affidavit says.

Investigators with the state Attorney General’s Office first contacted State Police troopers after receiving a cyber tip that a 16-year-old girl was offering sexual services in an advertisement on Backpage.com, the affidavit states.

Authorities then coordinated an investigation with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, which led to an undercover deputy arranging a meeting with the girl and the woman in what the ad described as a “two girl special,” the affidavit says.

The deputy met the girl and woman in a hotel room at the Courtyard Marriott on South Acadian Thruway and agreed to pay them $800 for 90 minutes of sexual acts, the affidavit states. Soon after, deputies broke down the locked hotel room door and arrested the accused prostitutes.

Tate faces up to 50 years in prison and hefty fines if convicted on the federal charges. Merritt faces up to 15 years in prison and fines if found guilty, Green said.