Woman admits to helping lure women into slavery in fake veteran case
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | .
published: July 27, 2016
The women were lured to a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, house with a promise that a military veteran stationed overseas would soon come home to begin a romantic relationship with them.
When they arrived, they were held captive with threats, extortion and sexual abuse, investigators said, by a man and his fiancee who posed as the veteran's friends.
On Monday, Michelle N. Feldman admitted in Franklin County Common Pleas Court that she assisted her fiance in the scheme and promised to testify against him if necessary.
Feldman, who will turn 31 this week, pleaded guilty to one count each of attempted human trafficking, extortion and grand theft. As part of the plea agreement, prosecuting and defense attorneys are recommending that Judge Pat Sheeran send her to prison for seven years when she is sentenced on Sept. 29.
She and Thomas M. Williamson, who turns 34 next week, were indicted in April 2015 for trafficking in persons and multiple counts of extortion, theft and sexual battery.
Williamson is scheduled for trial on Aug. 16.
Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Rausch said Williamson and Feldman engaged in an on-line scheme to attract women by creating a fake profile of a veteran looking to start a relationship. The indictment covers three women who were lured to the house, where they were told they could stay with the veteran's friend, identified as Williamson, until the veteran returned to the country.
The women became labor slaves, Rausch said, forced to work around the house and turn over all the money they made from any outside jobs — and in one case, Social Security Income — to Williamson and Feldman.
Two of the woman were coerced into sexual activity that was then used to blackmail them, she said.
After one of the women reported the activity to police, investigators found surveillance video taken by the couple that showed the physical and emotional abuse that the women endured.
Feldman's attorney, Mark C. Collins, said his client also experienced mental, physical and sexual abuse from Williamson.
"It was easier to go along with that plan than to fight it," Collins told the judge. "But she is willing to take responsibility for what she did."
Rausch said Feldman "reached a level of survival" with Williamson, "but that doesn't absolve her. She has cooperated with us and been forthcoming with us."
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