The following was issued by the United States Department of Justice today:
Former Wrestler Sentenced on Sex Trafficking and Forced Labor Charges
By U.S. Department of Justice
Former professional wrestler Harrison Norris Jr., 42, a/k/a “Hardbody Harrison,” from Cartersville, Ga., was sentenced today to life in prison and lifetime supervised release for committing multiple violations of federal sex trafficking and forced labor statutes in connection with a scheme to force women into prostitution. He was also sentenced to pay a $2,400 special assessment.
“These vulnerable American victims were lured by false promises to train as professional wrestlers and suffered horrific physical, sexual, and psychological abuse,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “I commend these women for coming forward and helping the Department hold accountable those who engaged in this shameful conduct.”
U.S. Attorney David E. Nahmias said of the sentencing, “Defendant Norris ran a forced prostitution ring in which women were sexually assaulted, held in debt, and forced to work and perform sex acts against their will. This heinous conduct deserved the severe sentence handed down today. Human trafficking removes an individual’s freedom to choose and can have long-lasting, psychological effects on the victims. In this case numerous victims were brave enough to come forward and testify at trial against their captor and abuser, defendant Norris. The jury specifically found aggravated sexual abuse by defendant Norris and the judge entered a sentence that should deter others from exploiting their fellow human beings.”
Norris was sentenced to life in prison and lifetime supervised release, and he was ordered to pay a $2,400 fine. Norris was convicted on Nov. 22, 2007, on 24 counts, including one count of conspiracy; four counts of holding women in a condition of peonage; five counts of forced labor; five counts of trafficking with respect to peonage; five counts of commercial sex trafficking; three counts of witness tampering; and one count of obstructing enforcement of a peonage investigation. Peonage is a condition of involuntary servitude imposed to extract repayment of an indebtedness.
Since 2001, Norris had been running a prostitution business in the Atlanta, Ga., area. From April 2005 to August of 2005, Norris and his co-conspirator Aimee Allen, recruited and forced women, many of whom were poor, homeless or addicted to drugs, to work for Norris as prostitutes and servants in his two Cartersville, Ga., homes. Norris lured several victims to his homes by falsely promising that he would train them to become successful wrestlers in his female wrestling company. Allen, who pled guilty and cooperated with the government, testified against Norris at trial, and was later sentenced to two years and 10 months in prison. One of Allen’s key roles in the conspiracy was to convince victims that Norris’s wrestling company was legitimate. According to the evidence at trial, another co-conspirator, Cedric Jackson, kidnapped at least one victim and provided her to Norris. Jackson was previously sentenced to serve five years in prison.
Witnesses testified that Norris isolated the victims from their families and friends and monitored them at all times to prevent their escape. Norris’s control over the victims included a strict military structure that he imposed in his home. The defendant assigned each of his victims to a “squad” overseen by a “team leader,” a woman conspiring with Norris to keep the victims in servitude. Allen was one such team leader.
Evidence at trial established that forced acts of prostitution occurred at nightclubs, in apartments, at hotels, in the back of Norris’ truck, and in other locations in North Carolina and northern Georgia. The profits from Norris’ forced prostitution business were collected by him and held in his safe, along with the victims’ identifications and cellular phones. The victims also testified that they were forced to engage in sexual conduct with Norris.
In addition to forcing the women to work as prostitutes, Norris made the victims work in and around his two homes in Cartersville, performing domestic labor including hauling trees, laying sod, and painting. The evidence at trial further established that Norris set strict rules and fined the women for such infractions as talking too much or failing to exercise. In addition, Norris kept the women financially indebted to him by charging them for food, medicine, rent, and cigarettes. Norris then told the victims that they could not leave until their debts were paid, all the while continuing to increase the debt he claimed he was owed.
Human trafficking prosecutions such as this one are a top priority in the Department of Justice. In the last seven fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Offices, has increased by nearly seven-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court as compared to the previous seven fiscal years. In FY 2007, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions.
This case was investigated by of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from Smyrna Police Department and Bartow County Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Coppedge, and Justice Department Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Karima Maloney.
The sentencing has been picked up by the national media including the Associated Press.
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