JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man pleaded guilty Friday in Duval County federal court to sex trafficking charges after investigators say he befriended women, offered them board, room and drugs, then forced them to enter prostitution to bring in money.
Prosecutors said 31-year-old Richard Moffett moved to Jacksonville from Ohio in 2016, living in various hotels, threatening to hurt or kill his victims if they tried to leave.
According to investigative reports, women were forced to perform sex acts and bring the money back to Moffett. One of them described being locked in a bathroom all day after trying to call a sex trafficking hotline for help.
Cameras aren’t allowed inside federal court, but sketches show Moffett in his orange jumpsuit sitting between his attorneys. He didn’t have handcuffs on, but his ankles were shackled.
Investigators said Moffett provided the drugs, food, clothes and rooms for his victims at various motels, mostly on the Northside. In return, he said they owed him money and forced them into prostitution.
According to an arrest report, Moffett’s listed address and place of arrest was a Southside motel off Baymeadows Road.
Investigators said Moffett would advertise the women on Backpage.com, an advertising website that was taken over by the FBI in 2018 because it became the largest marketplace for buying and selling sex.
According to an arrest warrant, one woman said she worked for Moffett out of fear. The report said the woman “observed him physically beat another female on several occasions and she feared that he would beat her as well if she did not continue to work for him."
Another victim told police “Moffett set the process for the commercial sex acts she was made to engage in; a quick visit was $80, half hour was $120, and hour was $200.”
That same victim said as punishment, “Moffett would withhold heroin until she got sick from withdrawal and then give her enough to make her feel better again.”
Police were able to track Moffett down and arrest him in November 2017 after one of the women was arrested for prostitution and told police she was scared because he would be looking for her once she was released, a report stated.
Once Moffett's guilty plea is accepted, his sentencing date will be set in the coming weeks. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center is an organization in Jacksonville that helps women and girls and can help anyone impacted by sex trafficking crimes. The center said sex trafficking is something happening in every community across the country, and Jacksonville is one of the biggest areas for it largely due to I-95 running down the middle, which provides easy access to hotel rooms for traffickers and buyers.
Florida ranks third in the country for calls the National Human Trafficking Hotline, according to the center. A spokesperson said the organization applauds efforts to hold traffickers and buyers accountable and said sex trafficking often goes unnoticed because it does not look like how it is portrayed in the movies.
If someone needs help in Jacksonville, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center is available anytime by calling (904) 412-8923. There's also a local support group, the first ever in Jacksonville.