One of the biggest cases of human trafficking in our area ends Monday with a sentencing in federal court.
Dozens of women and girls from the most desperate of circumstances were lured into sex work by a Topeka man, according to the FBI.
The ring was being partially run out of night club in Lawrence, Kansas.
“I think that most people don’t believe it’s happening in our smaller areas. They think it’s just a big city problem and it’s actually found everywhere,” says FBI Special Agent Amy Ramsey, who supervises the human trafficking squad in the Kansas City field office.
The numbers are disturbing.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline, which works with federal and local law enforcement, says so far this year almost 4,500 cases of trafficking have been reported.
That number has steadily risen since 2012.
That’s also true in Kansas, where cases have doubled in the last five years, reaching 54 in 2016. In Missouri there were 48 cases in 2012. Last year, that number jumped to 135.
Traffickers go where they can find the most vulnerable. “So people who are down and out. Maybe they are looking for housing. People who are just in a bad spot, who can be easily coerced and can be talked into something like that,” says Ramsey. “There are promises of shelter, food clothing, help with their children. Usually the promises are just in the beginning and quickly fade away.”
That’s exactly how Frank Boswell operated, the government says.
"Members of the organization identified single mothers, females with drug problems, or females living his shelters," says the plea deal the U.S. Attorney's office filed with the court. "For example, TW, a single mother, was living in a homeless shelter. The defendant (Boswell) told TW that he would take care of her if she worked for him."
In October 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Boswell and six others on nine counts of human trafficking. Boswell acted as the "'pimp,' 'mac,' or the leader of a prostitution organization," the indictment charged. "At various times, Boswell had ownership interest in different businesses, including Club Magic, a night club in Lawrence, Kansas, and Magic Lawn Care, a lawn care business in Topeka, Kansas."
Boswell is scheduled to be sentenced Monday afternoon after pleading guilty to one count to human trafficking. The man who managed Club Magic, Sean Hall, pleaded guilty last June to one count of conspiracy but he has yet to be sentenced.
Club Magic operated near 24th and Alabama in Lawrence, right behind a McDonalds drive-thru. The club is closed now. Few knew that a huge human trafficking ring was being run partly out of this building.
The government says Boswell and his fellow defendants traveled to homeless shelters and churches in Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri to recruit women and juveniles into his sex ring.
The whole case started when the Topeka Police Department's narcotics unit was doing a prostitution sting at a motel in 2010.
“Often times prostitution and drug activity go hand-in-hand,” says Topeka Police spokeswoman Lt. Colleen Stuart.
She says detectives would call up women advertising on the notorious Backpage.com.
Frank Boswell wasn’t even on their radar when the sting began. "So that name came up, (and then) more investigation into what’s this all about, how deep does it go, how wide does it go?” Stuart says.
So wide, she says, that they turned it over to the FBI who traced it to Boswell's Club Magic where he performed and recorded under the name Benafyshal (pronounced beneficial.)
The lyrics from Boswell’s song “U Can Get It” are about the kind of glamorous and lucrative life Boswell promised he could provide to women selling sex.
The video was shot in Club Magic with Boswell holding a handful of money.
There was nothing small about the trafficking operation or the club. Even Tech N9ne, Kansas City’s most famous rapper, shows up in a Club Magic video. To be clear, nobody says Tech N9ne is part of any criminal activity but here he is with Boswell.
“Yo, this is the one they call Tech N9ne and I’m in the backroom somewhere with my homeboy Franko," Tech N9ne says in a YouTube video promoting Club Magic. "If y’all wanna know what backroom we in, we in Club Magic baby. You know what I’m saying, baby, in Lawrence, Kansas. When I’m here, this is where I come."
A spokesman for Tech N9ne says neither the artist nor his company had a comment on the video or the case.
The club is closed, Boswell faces up to 63 months in prison and, the FBI says, the case isn’t over yet.