A Hempstead sex trafficker coerced his female victims into prostitution through threats of violence, exploiting their drug addiction and forcing them to work off debts for narcotics, food and housing, Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said Wednesday.
Prosecutors unsealed a 10-count grand jury indictment against William Wilkinson, 29, of who is accused of selling women as "commodities," forcing them to have unprotected sex and in one case strangling one of his victims.
The indictment specifies two women but prosecutors say more were part of the operation.
Wilkinson has been behind bars since his Nov. 16 arrest at the Coliseum Hotel in East Meadow. Wilkinson was arraigned Wednesday in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead where he pleaded not guilty to seven counts of felony sex trafficking, two counts of third-degree promoting prostitution and second-degree strangulation.
State Supreme Court Justice William Condon held Wilkinson on $1 million cash or $3 million bond. If convicted of the top count he faces up to 25 years in prison. Wilkinson is due back in court Jan. 13.
In a news conference in Hauppauge, Sini said Wilkinson "tortured" multiple female victims, feeding them heroin, cocaine, crack and pills and using their addiction, and the debt accumulated from the drugs, to force them into sex work.
"This is a true predator," Sini said. "Preying on women and their vulnerabilities to force them into sex slavery."
Joseph Hanshe, Wilkinson's Sayville-based attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wilkinson's arrest is the latest from the Suffolk Police Department's Human Trafficking Investigation Unit — a multiagency effort that has prosecuted dozens of human traffickers. Historically, Suffolk had two convictions related to sex trafficking, said Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart.
"We have made significant strides to dismantle human trafficking operations," Hart said.
Sini called Wilkinson "depraved" and said he solicited his victims through social media and referrals from criminal associates. The defendant advertised prostitution services through various websites and scheduled dates at clients' homes, their vehicles, or at hotels in Nassau and Suffolk, prosecutors said.
"This is about people putting greed over human decency," Sini said. "People exploiting other human beings for money."
Since November 2019, Wilkinson has forced women between the ages of 19 to 40 into prostitution, withholding their personal property, providing them with drugs and threatening them with violence, investigators said.
Wilkinson, Sini said, would keep a running tab — that he would arbitrarily increase — of the money he was owed by the women for drugs, meals and shelter and then pressure the victims to perform sex work to pay off their debts.
He would also use fear and the threat of physical violence to keep the women in his control, authorities said. In one instance, Wilkinson strangled a female victim, causing her serious physical injuries, Sini said.
"This is what traffickers do," Sini said. "They use a combination of psychological, emotional, financial and physical torture to keep their victims in sex slavery. Our goal here is to put an end to that cycle."
Authorities urge anyone who may have been a victim of Wilkinson to call 800-220-TIPS.