TAMPA — A federal judge set a precedent for human trafficking cases when she ruled Wednesday that a Lutz man used illegal prescription drugs to coerce women into prostitution.
U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew sentenced Andrew Blane Fields, 62, to nearly 34 years in prison on drug and human trafficking charges.
In the past, coercion in sex trafficking cases has required evidence of beatings or other physical force. Prosecutors successfully argued that Fields would wait until the women were experiencing symptoms of drug withdrawal — including vomiting and diarrhea — and then forced them to engage in prostitution to get additional drugs.
"He made me believe that he cared and that he loved me and he was going help me get off the streets," said Jordan Rennie, 22, one of three victims who gave statements during the sentencing. "Instead, he got me addicted to Roxicodone, Xanax, methadone and Somas, which were all bought illegally for the purpose of addicting me and controlling me."
Fields was charged in March and convicted in November after authorities found nearly 9,000 prescription pills in his home. Dressed in a navy blue county jail jumpsuit and bound at the ankles, he interjected several times during the proceedings and often turned to make eye contact with the victims.
The women expressed shame and regret over their time spent with Fields. One told a story of how she can't be intimate with her fiance without wondering if she's only worth the money in his wallet.
In their statements, the women shared conflicting feelings for Fields.
As is often the case with human trafficking, the victims formed a strong attachment to their captor. One called him a father figure. Another said she still had love for him and wondered if it was bad to want his forgiveness for testifying against him.
Turning to the other victims present, a woman known only as A.D. in court records urged the women to move forward with their lives.
"I care about you girls," she said. "You're beautiful. You're strong. You shouldn't be ashamed."
When Bucklew handed down the sentence of 33 years and 9 months — the longest term suggested in the guidelines — all three women exclaimed relief and thanks.
Fields quickly asked about the appellate process.
The defense had tried to argue for a lesser sentence because many of the victims had engaged in drug use and prostitution before meeting Fields. Judge Bucklew expressed a different view, saying Fields targeted women he knew were vulnerable.
"That's exactly what you were, you were a predator," Bucklew told Fields. "You are a 60-year-old man … and you were preying on those young women because they were just that. They were vulnerable.''
Human trafficking has become a prominent issue in Tampa Bay over the past year, but law enforcement and prosecutors have had difficulty getting convictions. To distinguish sex trafficking from prostitution, they must prove force, fraud or coercion.
"This kind of case has been brought forth before, and this is the first sentencing where drugs were substantiated as the sole means of coercion," Department of Homeland Security special agent Bill Williger said. "It sets a precedent so now we can bring cases forward where you don't need to prove violence. It's just another tool we have now to prosecute these cases."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.