Burlington, Vermont - After a three-week trial, a federal jury in Burlington, Vermont, found Brian Folks, 44, guilty of 13 federal felonies arising from his operation of a violent sex and drug trafficking enterprise that sold heroin and forced young, drug-addicted women to prostitute throughout the greater Burlington area. The verdict was announced by Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Cristina E. Nolan for the District of Vermont, and DEA Special Agent in Charge-Boston Brian D. Boyle.
The jury deliberated for six hours yesterday before convicting Folks of all sex and drug trafficking counts. The convictions included five counts of sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; one count of sex trafficking of a minor; one count of operating an unlawful prostitution business enterprise; five counts of distributing heroin; one count of possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute; and one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine base. The jury acquitted the defendant of one count of felon in possession of a firearm.
“Brian Folks used violent means to force young women suffering from opioid addictions to perform commercial sex acts, causing them immeasurable harm, and he contributed to the destruction of multiple lives by selling opioids to our communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “Human traffickers are exploiting the opioid epidemic with increasing frequency. Their depraved conduct, like this defendant’s, will not be tolerated, and the Department of Justice will continue its vigorous efforts to hold them accountable, bring justice to their victims, and prevent them from harming others.”
“This conviction represents a total vindication for victims of human trafficking, who bravely told their stories of abuse and degradation at the hands of Folks,” said U.S. Attorney Christina E. Nolan for the District of Vermont. “Folks is a merciless predator, who targeted vulnerable young addicted women. We are grateful that a Vermont jury has served up justice. We hope that this conviction will help the countless other victims of human trafficking find their voices and come forward to seek help and services. We will never stop looking for them, connecting them with recovery services, and seeking convictions and stiff penalties for those who would commit this most heinous of crimes. I commend the collaboration of federal and local law enforcement officers who tirelessly pursued Folks, showing compassion and support for the victims and a recognition that combatting human trafficking is a crucial component of our anti-drug campaign.”
“DEA will aggressively pursue individuals like Mr. Folks who distribute heroin in order to profit and destroy people’s lives,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle. “Today’s verdict not only holds Mr. Folks accountable for his crimes but serves as a warning to those traffickers who are fueling the opioid epidemic.”
Evidence presented at trial, including the testimony of victims, established that, between June 2012 and March 2016, Brian Folks targeted young, vulnerable women in the Burlington area. Most had experienced past trauma related to physical and sexual abuse as children growing up in broken homes. By the time they encountered Folks, most were addicted to drugs and homeless. Folks identified their weaknesses, recruited them, and then forced them to perform commercial sex acts for his profit. If they refused or otherwise “violated” one of his many strict rules, he inflicted serious consequences. He beat them, often in front of other victims, creating a climate of fear, and he sexually assaulted them. He withheld heroin from them, causing them to suffer painful physical and mental withdrawal symptoms. He also videotaped them performing explicit and humiliating sex acts on him, with him, and for him and threatened to expose those videos to the public. Evidence showed that Folks maintained a digital library containing thousands of photographs and videos of the victims. Among the defendant’s victims was a 17-year-old, who suffered from heroin-addiction and who is now deceased. The defendant recruited her to prostitute, photographed her, and advertised her online for prostitution. He then created and published a video on Facebook in which he denounced her as a “promiscuous addict.”
The evidence further established that Folks conspired with two co-defendants to sell heroin and cocaine base throughout the greater Burlington area. Folks’ drug trafficking enterprise was an integral part of his sex trafficking enterprise, and vice versa. He used his access to drugs to identify and target susceptible victims. At first, he promised to split any prostitution proceeds with them, but then he took the remainder in exchange for drugs. As a result, Folks took all of the proceeds and kept the victims under control and dependent on him. He also used the victims to carry out parts of his drug operation. For example, he had them bag the drugs, including heroin and cocaine base, for individual sales and then sell the drugs to buyers through hand-to-hand exchanges. As part of his drug trafficking emperies, he resorted to physical and sexual violence to control the victims and ensure maximum drug profits.
The defendant faces a minimum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, as well as mandatory restitution to the sex trafficking victims. His sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Co-defendants Darren McFarlan and Mandy previously pleaded guilty to conspiring with the defendant to distribute heroin and cocaine base. They both face a maximum sentence of 40 years’ imprisonment.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Agency’s New England Division, with assistance from the Burlington, Winooski, and Essex, Vermont, Police Departments and the FBI. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow for the District of Vermont and Trial Attorney Emily Savner and Special Litigation Counsel Matthew Grady for the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and its Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.