PEORIA—Following jury selection, as his trial was about to begin, Franshon Stapleton, 47, entered pleas of guilty to sex trafficking young women in Central Illinois from 2016 to May 2018. Stapleton pleaded guilty to all the charges against him Sept. 28 in Peoria before U.S. District Judge James E. Shadid. Sentencing for Stapleton has been scheduled on Jan. 29, 2021.
U.S. Attorney John Milhiser stated, “I commend the strength of the victims in this case who came forward to provide critical evidence against this defendant.” Milhiser also recognized the sustained efforts by federal and local law enforcement to locate, investigate and prosecute dangerous predators and remove them from our communities.
According to court documents, in 2017 and 2018, Stapleton, of Springfield, who was residing in a motel in Champaign, exploited the vulnerabilities of young women, including their drug addictions and homelessness, to force them to engage in commercial sex acts. Stapleton recruited young women from Champaign, Sangamon and Peoria counties, who often were dealing with the effects of heroin and crack cocaine addictions.
Stapleton used the website BackPage, which the Department of Justice seized in April 2018, to advertise commercial sex acts to be performed by the women he recruited. Stapleton used violence and threats of violence to force the women to engage in sex with men. To coerce women into continued sex trafficking, Stapleton supplied them with drugs and threatened to send women into withdrawal sickness by withholding drugs.
Stapleton has remained in law enforcement custody since his arrest in May 2018. Stapleton faces a statutory minimum sentence of 15 years and up to life in prison for each of the four sex trafficking counts. The penalty for each of the remaining charges to which he pleaded guilty is up to five years imprisonment for engaging in a conspiracy (one count) and for use of a facility of interstate commerce in aid of a racketeering enterprise (eleven counts).
The charges are the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations; the Urbana Police Department; the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office; the Illinois State Police Forensics Laboratory; and, the Champaign Police Department with cooperation from Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Reitz. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elly M. Peirson and Ryan Finlen represent the government in the prosecution.