Jury Convicts Felon, LeAnthony Winston of Sex Trafficking, Drug, and Firearm Charges
(STL.News) A federal jury convicted a Norfolk man yesterday on charges of sex trafficking, fraud, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and other drugs, and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, LeAnthony Winston, 34, is a six-time convicted felon. Shortly after he was released from state prison in December 2019 for firearm and drug convictions, Winston obtained another firearm and began to traffic methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine, and cocaine base.
From March through May 2020, Winston trafficked two women in Norfolk and coerced them into engaging in commercial sex. He used a combination of false promises of love and protection, threats, and violence, including beatings and pointing a firearm at the women to gain compliance. Winston’s co-conspirator, Tonya Hardesty, 37, of Norfolk, trained the women, created advertisements, and set up commercial sex “dates” with clients, while Winston set the prices and kept all of the proceeds from commercial sex. He also distributed drugs to the women, including methamphetamine and crack, to keep them awake so that they could have as many “dates” as possible and so that they would be indebted to him for the cost of the drugs.
On April 15, 2020, Norfolk Police Department patrol officers responded to the Ocean View Inn Motel in Norfolk after Winston beat, choked, and threatened to kill one of the women in a dispute about money. The female victim stated that she was assaulted by her “pimp,” so the patrol officers referred the case to Norfolk vice and narcotics detectives for further investigation.
At the time of his arrest, Winston had approximately 16.8 grams of crack cocaine on his person. Within the hotel room, law enforcement found the second female victim and Winston’s loaded firearm. After Winston was taken into custody, he continued to coerce the second female to engage in commercial sex, claiming that he would be out on a bond soon. He also threatened her over a jail call.
Winston faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison when sentenced on March 7, 2022. Hardesty pleaded guilty on May 3 to promotion of prostitution and is scheduled for sentencing on December 9. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Raymond Villanueva, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Larry D. Boone, Chief of Norfolk Police, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar accepted the verdict.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Turner and Megan Montoya are prosecuting the case.
This investigation was conducted by the Hampton Roads Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaboration between federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutors, as well as non-governmental organizations, working together to combat human trafficking in the Hampton Roads Region. The Virginia Army National Guard Counterdrug Task Force provided significant assistance in this investigation.