Kenneth Graham plied his trade in the suburbs.
It was there, in the hotels and motels that dot Amherst and Cheektowaga, that Graham’s victims, some of them underage, rendezvoused with men for sex.
And it was there, the girls later told a jury, that Graham would sometimes resort to threats and violence to keep them working as prostitutes.
Graham, 27, of Buffalo, was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison.
“This was brutal modern-day slavery,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Trini E. Ross. “These victims have a life sentence.”
Convicted by a jury of three sex-trafficking charges, one for each of the victims who testified against him, Graham was facing a maximum of life in prison when he appeared Monday before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
More than two years have passed since Arcara oversaw a trial featuring the emotional and often-graphic testimony of Graham’s three victims. Graham also took the stand and countered with an outright denial.
In the end, a jury found him guilty of running a sex-trafficking operation out of a handful of suburban hotels and motels from 2010 until his arrest by Homeland Security agents in August 2012.
“These women were beaten,” Ross said of the three victims. “They were brutalized. They were traumatized.”
During Graham’s trial, the three victims testified that Graham recruited them and then used threats and violence to keep them working long after they wanted out of the business.
He countered by suggesting the young woman and two girls were involved in prostitution long before he entered their lives, a fact two of the victims acknowledged during the trial.
“He didn’t take a farm girl from Iowa and force her into a life of prostitution,” said defense attorney Robert N. Convissar.
Convissar argued strenuously for a sentence of less than life in prison and, with Graham next to him, suggested his client’s crimes did not warrant the same sentence often given to murderers.
“I never forced them to do anything,” Graham said of the two girls and young woman he victimized.
Graham’s trial provided a glimpse into the world of human trafficking and what experts say is a trend toward more domestic incidents of women and children forced into prostitution.
At one point, one of the victims testified about Graham driving her to and from her Buffalo high school and later, after she turned 17, taking her to get a learner’s permit.
Prosecutors also produced records indicating Graham rented the victims’ hotel rooms and paid for their online sex ads.