Darnell Fulton, 38, pleaded guilty to conspiring to compel labor by three minors and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. As part of the plea, Fulton will serve 35 years in prison and pay over $700,000 in restitution to the victims. His sentencing hearing is set for April 11, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana said in a statement.
Fulton will be under lifetime supervised release once his prison term is completed and he’ll be required to register as a child sex offender under the Adam Walsh Act.
In exchange for his guilty plea, three counts of forced labor, two counts of transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and a count of conspiracy to commit transportation of a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity were dropped. Fulton was originally charged in July 2020 and arrested in Texas, per court records.
Fulton forced the children to bake and sell brownies for his own profit between June 2016 and May 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The children typically worked seven days a week with few breaks, working late into the night to prepare the brownies and selling them during the day. Fulton required the children to travel to as many as 20 to 30 shopping plazas, car dealerships, restaurants, parking lots and law firms in the Pineville area to sell their brownies daily. Strict sales quotas were enforced.
The 38-year-old pulled the children out of school to make the forced labor possible.
He ensured their work through a campaign of physical and sexual abuse and terrorizing, including food withholding, waterboarding, beatings, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation and threats against the children and others.
The children were ages 13, 11, and 9 when the abuse began, and 16, 14 and 12 when it ended, according to information in Fulton’s indictment.
“The defendant regularly assaulted the victims, especially if they did not meet his sales quotas. For example, the defendant frequently required the victims to get on their hands and knees on rice and stay in a push up or plank position for hours, and he often whipped them with a belt if they got out of proper form,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement said.
Fulton also forced the children into sex acts with him and others, and on at least three occasions transported the children out of state for criminal sexual activity.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s field office in Alexandria with help from the Alexandria Police Department and prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Luke Walker and Maryam Zhuravitsky with the Justice Department’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.
“This case is proof that human trafficking doesn’t just happen in other countries…Human trafficking can be happening right in our own neighborhoods and communities without us even realizing it. Each of us must be vigilant and aware of our surroundings and if we see a situation that seems suspicious, take the time to report it to the police,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana Brandon Brown said in a statement.