CHICAGO - A 17-year-old West Virginia girl who thought she was headed to a modeling position in Chicago last summer ended up as the latest victim of the "Daughter Trade," a secretive sex enslavement industry.
RELATED VIDEO: The Daughter Trade
The Daughter Trade
Federal authorities in Chicago on Wednesday announced federal sex trafficking charges against Blake Steckel, 33, who allegedly flew the teenager and put her to work as a prostitute.
Steckel, a longtime northwest suburban resident currently residing in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, also faces charges of production of child pornography, and transporting an individual in interstate commerce for purposes of prostitution.
Federal investigators say Steckel threatened to post the victim's sexually explicit photographs on Facebook and Instagram if she refused to engage in prostitution for him. According to an FBI affidavit, at one point the East Coast teenager said she wanted to go home but Steckel forced her to continue working.
Law enforcement officers rescued the girl in a Schaumburg hotel room on Aug. 21 after an undercover officer responded to an online posting for a "date" with the victim. The undercover agent engaged in a series of text messages with Steckel to set up the meeting, according to the complaint.
Authorities say graphic pictures of the girl had been used in advertisements on a Chicago "escort" service website and on the controversial backpage.com.
Steckel was arrested last month and held on a criminal complaint, but authorities did not announce the charges until today when he was indicted.
Last month, an I-Team investigation found that thousands of girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are being forced into a brutal lifestyle that they have trouble escaping. The Daughter Trade is a multi-billion dollar business spanning the globe and young girls are the sole product. FBI officials say it is the fastest growing crime in America.
Oddly, Steckel was arrested on nearly identical state charges in March of 2015 by the Cook County Sheriff's Dept. vice unit, the I-Team has learned. At that time he was charged with promoting prostitution, a class 4 felony. He pled the case down to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to a one year conditional discharge and paid a small fine.
In the newly-filed case he faces prosecution under a new federal sex trafficking law that is punishable by a statutory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison. Production of child pornography carries a minimum prison sentence of 15 years and a maximum of 30 years. Transporting an individual for prostitution is punishable by up to ten years in prison.