NEW YORK - A judge who heard prostitutes testify that a father-and-son pimp team made them feel like family cleared the two men of sex trafficking charges Wednesday.
The men's supporters in the Manhattan courtroom cheered the verdict, but the gallery fell silent when Judge Ruth Pickholtz announced convictions against Vincent George Sr. and Vincent George Jr. on charges they laundered millions of dollars through music recording and car service businesses. The pair showed no emotion aside from slight smiles as they were led back to jail in handcuffs.
George Sr., 56, and his son, 35, had faced possible 25-year terms on sex trafficking charges accusing them of abusing and manipulating the women for profit. They still could get up to 15 years at sentencing on July 8 for the money laundering conviction.
Despite the mixed verdict, District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. called the outcome a victory, as did advocates for victims of sex trafficking.
"The goal of the prosecution was to dismantle a criminal enterprise from top to bottom," Vance said. "That goal has been achieved with the Georges. ... There is no fairy tale ending for these defendants."
In a statement, the non-profit Sanctuary for Families thanked prosecutors, saying the case offered "a stark illustration of how sex traffickers operate, many times recruiting young, vulnerable girls with false promises of a more glamorous and luxurious lifestyle."
But defense attorneys, who called the women working for their clients "happy hookers," also claimed victory, adding that they planned to appeal the convictions.
The verdict "recognizes that people have free will and the right to make choices whether or not you like those choices," the son's attorney, David Epstein, said of the prostitutes.
The loving relationship between pimps and prostitutes "was vindicated," Epstein added. "It's a moral victory as well as a legal one."
Prosecutors had alleged the prostitutes made as much as $500,000 a year for the Georges but got only a few dollars a night themselves and had no bank accounts or property. The prostitutes were threatened with beatings when they didn't bring in as much money as expected or were late to check in, according to wiretap conversations played at trial.
"Bring me my (expletive) money right now and get your ass back to work," the son said to one woman.
The women painted a different picture, saying they were treated to nice cars, vacations in Florida and affection from their pimps. Some lived together as "family" in a house in Allentown, Pa., about 90 miles from New York, and drove in to the city at night to turn tricks for $300, they said.
One witness, Heather Keith, has George Jr.'s nickname, King Koby, tattooed on her neck. She testified she was a drug-addicted 19-year-old stripper from upstate. She said he moved her to Allentown and helped her beat a cocaine habit.
"I would say that I make my own choices," said Keith, now 26. "I am not a dumb person. I know what I'm doing."
Another witness, 24-year-old Desiree Ellis, dismissed allegations that George Jr. abused her, calling him a "teddy bear."
She once thought about leaving him. But at a bus station, she changed her mind and asked if she could come back to their "family." He welcomed her with open arms.
"We kissed," she said. "We made up. We had a love session."