Vancouver woman gets 10 years for role in sex trafficking

She's last defendant with connection to March 2012 case

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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A Vancouver woman was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison for helping to arrange the prostitution of two teen girls in March 2012 in Vancouver.

In an agreement with prosecutors, Melisa C. Erwin, 33, pleaded guilty March 13 in Clark County Superior Court to promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree assault and unlawful imprisonment. In exchange, Deputy Prosecutor Michael Vaughn recommended the sentence, which was the minimum under the state's standard range.

Erwin was the seventh and final defendant to plead guilty and be sentenced in the sex trafficking case.

She was part of a loosely formed gang, known as the Real Money Hustlers, which pimped out the two girls, ages 16 and 17, Vaughn said Wednesday.

She was arrested in March 2012 at the Evergreen Village apartments, 2501 N.E. 138th Ave., after the father of one of the victims contacted police. She admitted that she photographed the girls to advertise them for prostitution and set up a meeting with at least one man who paid to have sex with one of the girls.

When one of the girls resisted having her photograph taken, Erwin assaulted the girl to get her to comply. She also held one of the girls against her will inside an apartment after the girl tried to run away, Vaughn said.

Erwin's attorney, Jeff Riback, said Wednesday that the teenagers were already working as prostitutes before Erwin started promoting them to clients.

"It wasn't a situation where these girls had no experience in prostitution," Riback said. "One of the girls had a pimp. Also, Miss Erwin didn't know their ages."

"It doesn't make what she did right," he added.

Riback said when law enforcement officials showed up at her door, Erwin "came clean from the beginning and has remained that way."

One of the victims wrote a victim's impact statement to the court, which Judge Daniel Stahnke read at Wednesday's hearing.

"You can say you are going to kill me all you want, but I'm going to continue on," the victim wrote, addressing Erwin. "See, I don't even have the time to watch over my shoulder anymore."

Stahnke also sentenced Erwin to three years of probation and required her to register as a sex offender for life. The judge ordered her not to have any contact with the victims for a period of 100 years.

Erwin's accomplices, all from Vancouver, also have pleaded guilty in the case.

Patrick Forbes, 21, pleaded guilty Jan. 31 to second-degree trafficking and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and was sentenced Feb. 28 to 15 years in prison. Josefino Daniel Bautista-Johnson, 20, pleaded guilty Aug. 6, 2012, to second-degree attempted trafficking and unlawful imprisonment and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Maurine S. Tillmon, 21, pleaded guilty Nov. 28, 2012, to promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Osvaldo Garcia-Arriola, 19, pleaded guilty Sept. 12, 2012, to second-degree attempted trafficking and was sentenced to more than six years in prison.

J.N. Tosi, pleaded guilty March 13 to unlawful imprisonment and was sentenced to one year in jail.

Jessica L. Tietz, 26, was referred for diversion on charges of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of delivering a firearm to an ineligible person.

A judge ordered to stay proceedings against her provided that she stay crime-free during that period and comply with other obligations.