Two men sentenced to life in prison on an assortment of federal charges related to a prostitution ring involving underage girls that operated in northwest Indiana failed in their appeal before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, but judges asked the trial court to clarify the sentence for a third defendant.
In U.S. v. Justin Cephus, Jovan Stewart, and Stanton L. Cephus, 10-3838, 10-3840, 11-1098, all defendants were convicted of more than 20 counts for their roles in organizing and running a prostitution ring in which force and coercion were used to recruit dozens of underage girls, often runaways, as prostitutes. The girls sometimes were transported across state lines to Illinois.
The Cephuses were each sentenced to life in prison, but Stewart was sentenced to 324 months in prison. The order remands to the district court to reconcile a discrepancy in Stewart’s sentence: the judge orally said Stewart’s sentences were to be served consecutively, but the written order says the sentences are to run concurrently.
The girls worked in escort agencies in which Justin Cephus was identified as the ringleader and described as a pimp who controlled through violence and confiscated money the girls were paid for turning tricks.
The judges rejected arguments on appeal that the indictment was “duplicitous,” and that prosecutors frequently posed leading questions to witnesses.