In the case of a Union City, Tn., woman who pleaded guilty to interstate transport of an individual for the purpose of prostitution, Federal Judge Sandy Mattice decided to delay her sentence for six weeks to see if she had changed her life.
This came after defense attorney Myrlene Marsa argued that Tatiana Valencia Wallace had not been involved in coercion of any form. She argued her client had not been any kind of "leader" at all.
Attorney Marsa said the defendant's role was more like that of a broker working with independent contractors.
She said her client never forced anything, but instead set up meetings for individuals who contacted her first. She said any woman involved in prostitution set up through Ms. Wallace "had the right to turn work down."
Ms. Wallace was arrested in a sting operation conducted by Chattanooga Detective Zach Fuller. Her business name was advertised in multiple states as "Dreamgirl Companions."
However, prosecutor Jay Woods said, "The fact of the matter is the defendant recruited, advertised, and provided services that without her would not have taken place."
Attorney Marsa said her client offered an opportunity but did not manage or supervise. She said the defendant had previously been a part of an escort service that had been more forceful and had wanted to get away. She said, "She wanted to offer people a way to do this if they were going to do this that was humane and not coercive."
Judge Mattice said, "I find that Ms. Wallace was at least an organizer in this."
However, he said, "The term human trafficking, to me, implies some element of coercion. I don't think that's what Ms. Wallace was doing."
Prosecutor Woods told the court, "All kinds of crime follows prostitution," saying the defense was trying to minimize the defendant's role.
Judge Mattice said, "There are a lot of people out there who believe prostitution should be legalized. Just like some people believe marijuana should be legalized." He gave the example of Nevada, a state that has legalized prostitution.
He continued, "If it is coercive, then the protection of the public plays a big role. But if there's not coercion involved, I don't know that there's anything to protect the public from. It's a voluntary transaction between two consenting adults."
Attorney Marsa told the court that since the defendant has been on probation, she has been working two legal jobs as well as making plans to complete her degree. She also said Ms. Wallace complied with police, even providing extra information.
She said, "She's done everything in her power to cooperate."
Judge Mattice decided to revisit the case in six weeks after getting information from the defendant's probation officer. He said, "Maybe it can become a home confinement if I can become satisfied that she has in fact turned her life around."
However, he warned her, "You are now on law enforcement's radar screen, you are not realistically going to be able to go back into this business."