PITTSBURGH — A western Pennsylvania woman has pleaded guilty to conspiring to sex trafficking four teenage runaways from Ohio who were found during a traffic stop involving her co-defendant, along with what state police said were 8,000 individual dose bags of heroin.
Kiari Day, 26, of Rankin, pleaded guilty Friday and must return for sentencing in December 2016 before a federal judge in Pittsburgh. The charge of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking has no minimum penalty, and carries up to life in prison.
Day was indicted in August along with Robert Middlebrook, 40, of Clairton, who was pulled over along with another man on Feb. 17 near Harrisburg. State police charged Middlebrook with heroin possession and trafficking in minors — three of the girls were 17, one was 16 — but those charges were dropped after federal investigators took over the case as part of an emphasis on human trafficking started two years ago by U.S. Attorney David Hickton in Pittsburgh.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar told the judge on Friday that Middlebrook and Day brought the girls to Pennsylvania.
Middlebrook allegedly drove two girls to the Pittsburgh area on Feb. 9, and returned with Day two days later to bring back the other two. The girls were from the Canton-Akron area, about two hours west of Pittsburgh.
The girls were friends and all runaways, one of whom had met Middlebrook in January, Smolar said. That girl convinced her friends to come with Middlebrook and Day to Pittsburgh.
Once in Pennsylvania, Middlebrook told the girls they'd work as prostitutes and he and Day helped the girls place sex ads on http://www.backpage.com , an online want-ad site, Smolar said. The girls paid for the ads using cellphones and prepaid credit cards Middlebrook provided and were schooled in how to act by Day, Smolar said.
Among other things, Day helped the girls style their hair, taught them how to act with "johns" — or male sex customers — and took pictures of the girls in lingerie for the ads as Middlebrook's home, Smolar said.
The girls were also given marijuana and ecstasy and supplied with condoms, Smolar said.
Middlebrook allegedly let his friends have sex with the girls and claimed he had paid someone to kill them if they didn't perform sexually. Day acknowledged knowing the girls were "young" and not able to drive, although she told investigators she didn't know their precise ages, Smolar said.
Middlebrook has pleaded not guilty and is still awaiting trial. He's also charged with conspiring to traffic the girls, plus charges of bringing the girls across state lines to engage in unlawful sex and heroin trafficking.
His attorney, Douglas Sughrue, said Friday that he was still reviewing the evidence in the case before deciding how to resolve the charges.
Day's attorney didn't return messages for comment.