Darnell Fulton, 38, of Pineville, Louisiana, pleaded guilty Friday, November 4, 2022, to conspiring to compel labor by three minors and to transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
According to the plea agreement, between June 2016 and May 2019, the Fulton used violence, sexual abuse, withholding of food, degradation and intimidation to coerce his three stepdaughters to work for his brownie baking business and provide him with the business profits.
Fulton required the victims to travel to as many as 20-30 locations a day, such as plazas, car dealerships, law firms, restaurants and parking lots, in order to sell brownies. The victims worked late into the night, either selling or baking the brownies, and sold them during the day instead of going to school.
In fact, the victims typically worked seven days a week with very few breaks, and had to meet a sales quota every day.
Fulton also regularly assaulted the victims, especially if they did not meet his sales quotas. For example, the defendant frequently required the victims to get on their hands and knees on rice and stay in a pushup or plank position for hours, and he often whipped them with a belt if they got out of proper form.
He also forced the minor victims to perform sexual acts with him and others, and transported them across state lines in order to engage in criminal sexual activity.
It’s alleged that Fulton trafficked two girls younger than 16 for sex across state lines and he subjected the three children “to physical violence, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, withholding of food, degradation, intimidation and psychological manipulation to obtain uncompensated labor and services.”
The third child was younger than 12.
The indictment alleges that the three later were removed from school and were water boarded as part of the scheme. They also had to meet daily sales quotas for the brownies they were forced to bake, it reads.
“Human trafficking is a heinous crime that targets some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, cruelly exploiting the victims for their labor and services,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This conviction makes clear that the Department of Justice will prosecute those who use violence, psychological abuse, and emotional manipulation to compel the labor and services of their victims. We encourage survivors of forced labor, including children, to report forced labor complaints to authorities.”
“This case is proof that human trafficking doesn’t just happen in other countries,” said U.S. Attorney Brandon B. Brown for the Western District of Louisiana. “But in fact, human trafficking can be happening right in our own neighborhoods and communities without us even realizing it. Each of us must be vigilant and aware of our surroundings and if we see a situation that seems suspicious, take the time to report it to the police. Unfortunately, the victims in this case are the ones who have suffered life-long trauma because of this defendant’s horrendous acts. We will continue fighting for victims such as these to ensure that those who choose to inflict this type of harm on others are brought to justice.”
Fulton’s sentencing hearing has been scheduled for April 11, 2023. Fulton faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum penalty of up to life imprisonment, as well as a $250,000 fine for transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and a maximum penalty of 20 years and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to commit forced labor. As part of his plea agreement, the defendant agreed to a sentence of 35 years in prison and to pay more than $700,000 in restitution to the victims.
Anyone who has information about human trafficking should report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For more information about human trafficking, visit www.humantraffickinghotline.org.
Information on the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat human trafficking can be found at www.justice.gov/humantrafficking.