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Baltimore woman charged with running sex-trafficking ring that spanned Maryland

A Baltimore woman who police said was known by the nickname “First Lady” has been charged with running a sex-trafficking organization that allegedly recruited women from Hagerstown and forced them to perform sex work in exchange for drugs at hotels across Maryland. (Dreamstime/TNS)

BALTIMORE — A Baltimore woman who police said was known by the nickname “First Lady” has been charged with running a sex-trafficking organization that allegedly recruited women from Hagerstown and forced them to perform sex work in exchange for drugs at hotels across Maryland.

Kenika D. Leach, 33, faces 135 criminal charges in Washington County, including sex trafficking by force or fraud, receiving a benefit from coerced labor and conspiracy. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case.

Investigators charge that Leach was the leader of an organization known as the “Pussy Kat Klub” that trafficked a dozen women between 2019 and 2021. Leach and other conspirators found victims in Hagerstown, where the group also sold drugs, according to charging documents.

Leach would “starve” the women by withholding drugs and then coerce them to perform commercial sex acts to pay off their drug “debt,” investigators wrote. Victims told police that Leach would confiscate their phones and car keys and threaten to hurt them if they did not pay back their “debt,” the charging documents allege.

“Many of the women were particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to drug addiction and/or homelessness,” the indictment states.

The victims are identified only by their initials in an application for a statement of charges filed in March. One woman “detailed the organization’s use of her active drug addiction to control her and force her to engage in commercial sex acts by confronting her with the choice of following Leach’s directions or being denied drugs, leading to painful withdrawal symptoms,” police wrote.

Leach is being held without bond, court records show. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The investigation into Leach began in December 2021, when one of the women who had been coerced into sex work went to Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore for pregnancy complications, police wrote. The woman was accompanied by a man she identified as “Uncle Joseph” who would not leave the hospital.

When police interviewed the woman, she reported that she met Leach in Hagerstown during a period of homelessness, investigators wrote. Leach allegedly transported the woman from Hagerstown to the Baltimore area, where the woman said Leach physically and psychologically abused her and paid her in drugs for performing commercial sex acts.

The indictment against Leach charges that she used physical violence to control the women, telling them to “get on the wall” and cover their faces so their appearances would not be affected by the beating. Two male co-conspirators, who have not been charged, allegedly helped recruit women by getting into romantic relationships and then passing the women off to Leach.

Leach had the women provide sexual photos that she uploaded to various sex work websites, then organized “dates” with the men who responded to the advertisements, according to the indictment. Investigators found online communications between Leach and the men where they negotiated sex acts and prices, along with Cash App and other online financial transactions that appeared related to the “dates.”

Men often paid Leach directly for the sex acts and then Leach provided the women “one and ones,” or daily rations of drugs, according to the indictment. Leach cashed out tens of thousands of dollars from her Cash App account between July 2020 and December 2021, police wrote.

The organization set up appointments at inexpensive hotels in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Washington counties, including in Hagerstown, Linthicum Heights, Pikesville and Windsor Mill, investigators wrote. The investigation included the Baltimore Police Department, the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Unit, Maryland State Police, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Hagerstown Police Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s investigative arm.

Police used facial recognition software on several occasions during the investigation to identify potential victims, according to the charging documents.

Leach was arrested on unrelated warrants in January and interviewed about the sex-trafficking organization, police wrote. She told investigators she found women on Jonathan Street in Hagerstown, which is known for prostitution and drugs, according to police.

Leach largely admitted to the scheme, police wrote, though she told investigators that her goal was to take the women “off the street.” She acknowledged that she supplied the women with drugs, police wrote, and said she “helped” the women arrange meetings with male customers for sex work. The indictment also charges that Leach and a co-conspirator abducted and assaulted a woman who owed a drug debt.

Leach told police that she and her co-conspirators identify as members of the Bloods, a street gang, and said she was “O.G.,” or “original gangster,” indicating a high rank in the gang, investigators wrote.


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