Man accused of running child sex trafficking ring to go to trial

Erwin Burley indicted last summer in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Texas man accused of running a child sex trafficking ring through Jacksonville has chosen to go to trial instead of taking a plea deal.

Erwin Burley was indicted last summer in Jacksonville on federal charges of child sex trafficking, transportation for prostitution and enticing children.

According to a 22-page federal indictment, the case against Burley began last July when an underage victim contacted police about how he lured her into prostitution, working in Jacksonville, Houston and New Orleans.

The indictment papers detail how prosecutors believe Burley not only enticed the minor to travel across state lines to work as a prostitute, but also describe the alleged physical torture she endured when she didn’t meet Burley’s quota.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said girls involved often don’t know what they’re getting into.

“Since they’re young and impressionable, they are able to convince them they can provide a better life for them. They have no idea they are about to enter into a life of prostitution,” Smith said.

The victim told investigators that Burley was her pimp, and had another person train her on how to be a prostitute. The training included walking the street and knowing what to say to customers. The victim says she was also required to advertise on Backpage.com.

“These guys can make up to $200,000 a year per child by having them advertise on these websites and showing them how to work the streets because, unfortunately, there is a market for this service out there,” Smith said.

The victim also told investigators that she and Burley’s other prostitutes were required to meet a $1,000 quota, and if they failed to meet that quota, they were given drugs so they could work without sleep.

On several occasions, the victim says, she was beaten and whipped with a cord. On one occasion, investigators say, Burley shaved the victim’s head and livestreamed it to other pimps -- a practice called “scalping.” 

“The abuse is done to instill fear in the child, to make them afraid, so they won’t try to escape or get away from them,” Smith said.

According to investigators, the victim was not from the Jacksonville area, she was a homeless girl from Arkansas who was lured to Texas, where she first met up with Burley.

From there, her life spiraled into a world of prostitution that ended here in Jacksonville, where authorities took Burley into custody.

Burley’s trial is scheduled to begin on July 5.

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