Major sex-trafficking case could trigger investigations of North Carolina Marines

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A Marine veteran turned drug-dealing sex trafficker already has been sent to prison but evidence from the investigation is headed to police agencies in and around Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, that could help identify his clients, both civilian and military.

On May 7, Jesse Gabriel Marks, 38, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for drugging and prostituting an estimated 300 women throughout two decades in Onslow County, North Carolina ― home to Camp Lejeune, one of the largest Marine Corps bases.

“There is no excuse ever for one human being to try to entrap and own another human being,” Onslow County Sheriff Hans J. Miller said at a livestreamed Tuesday press conference. “This guy is no longer a Marine. He is an ex-Marine. I’m so glad he was taken off the street and I think our community is safer for it.”

Miller pushed for those in the public to contact police if they have information about potential human trafficking.

“This case is over, however, there is still additional evidence that we are aware of that we will follow up,” Miller said. “There may be more predators out there.”

At the same press conference to discuss the investigation, Naval Criminal Investigative Service Carolinas Field Office Special-Agent-in-Charge Sean Devinny said that many of the victims interviewed by police believed the majority of their clients were Marines.

But, Devinny stressed, the victims did not set up the encounters and often were told by Marks that the clients were Marines.

The agent said that evidence gathered indicated that some active-duty military members were in communication with Marks, but he did not reveal the content of that evidence.

Devinny said that reviews of cellphone data, website records, emails and other evidence “did not provide actionable intelligence of specific service members.”

But that data will be handed over to base police, criminal investigative divisions at the bases and others.

While the NCIS portion of the work with lead agency Onslow County Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville (North Carolina) Police Department focused on the immediate area, Devinny said he would not be surprised if Marks’ trafficking efforts spread beyond the region and state lines.

The agent said it was tough to estimate the number of clients in the prostitution ring.

Onslow County, North Carolina, detectives had been investigating Marks on drug-related cases back in 2019.

At around the same time, NCIS was investigating the sources of drugs reaching Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune and other nearby North Carolina military bases.

Police caught a Marine not named in court documents with drugs who named Marks as the source of the illegal substance.

From there, investigators began to unspool decades of a drug to prostitution ring that Marks built, in part, off of his time as a Marine stationed in North Carolina.

Marks joined the Corps out of Lansing, Michigan, in 2000 and served as an 0311 rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. He had no deployments and was reduced in rank to E-1 a few months before he was discharged in October 2002, barely halfway through his enlistment.

Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs could not disclose details of his discharge, but provided a general statement about the nature of his early release.

“Marks’ premature discharge and rank at time of separation are indicative of the fact that the character of his service was incongruent with Marine Corps’ expectations and standards,” the Manpower and Reserve Affairs statement said.

US Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina G. Norman Acker III said at the press conference that Marks started selling drugs and gradually got into prostitution.

“He realized if he got these women hooked on drugs he could take advantage of them,” Acker said.

Officials said that Marks would befriend women and offer them drugs. As their addictions grew he would force them to prostitute themselves or threaten to cut off their drug supply. He also physically abused the women to keep them under his control.

Acker called the drugs and assaults Marks’ “whips and chains” that kept the women “enslaved to him.”

“Human trafficking is really modern-day slavery,” Acker said. “Jesse Marks and others like him use fear, they use threats, they use drugs to either start prostituting them or to keep them when they want to leave.”

“He deserves every minute of the 30 years he got.”

Marks was arrested in 2019 and held without bond as his case proceeded.

Marks confessed to prostituting more than 200 victims over nearly two decades and pleaded guilty to a sex trafficking charge in September 2020. One witness estimated the number as high as 600 victims. Officials at the Tuesday press conference put a reliable estimate near 300 victims.

Police say women ranged in age from 16 to their mid-30s, but the majority of women that Marks trafficked were in their early to mid-20s.

Marks used his knowledge about the Marine Corps and Marines to teach the women to target Marines more effectively for prostitution services, officials said.

Assistant US Attorney Erin Blondel said that most of the crimes that law enforcement uncovered happened off base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, or in locations in Onslow County.

Traci Klein, executive director of True Justice International, a North Carolina-based anti-human trafficking nonprofit, said that Marks’ conviction and sentencing gives some hope to victims that their abusers will be held accountable.

“All of the girls I’ve talked to since he was sentenced, this is like a closure for them,” Klein said. “There is hope and the ability to have a future.”

Klein said that her organization served 72 victims of trafficking last year in the Onslow County, North Carolina, area.

She calls the reported cases of sex trafficking “grossly underreported,” saying that many victims don’t come forward for fear of their safety or simply not being believed or helped.

Onslow County Sheriff spokesman Col. Christopher Thomas said work with the nonprofit was vital to building trust between Marks’ victims and police.

Miller encouraged people to reach out if they have been a victim of such crimes or have information that might assist police in such investigations.

“If we don’t know, we cannot help you,” he said. “Please let us know. Let us help you.”

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