HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A 45-year-old Houston man has been sent to prison and ordered to pay nearly $1 million following his convictions on five separate counts of sex trafficking involving adults and minors, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
A Houston federal jury deliberated for less than three hours before convicting David Mearis back in October of 2019, following three days of trial.
Monday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt sentenced Mearis to life in federal prison on each count to run concurrently. He was further ordered to pay $921,680 in restitution to the victims.
At the hearing, the court heard excerpts from victim impact statements two of the victims had prepared.
"Many days I thought might be my last, being beat as if not human," said one woman. "I ask that you ensure that no other human has to be subject to the threat of Mr. Mearis. He has created distress and trauma to one too many women."
Another victim called Mearis the "Devil."
"I was fearing for my life not knowing how to escape the humiliation that was going on. I have been mentally and physically abused," the other victim said.
"David Mearis was a career pimp who abused, controlled, and exploited his victims. He stooped to a new kind of low by taking advantage of one of the girls who had a learning disability and the mental capacity of a child," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner. "Mearis wasn't the caretaker he wanted the court or his prey to believe. He was a dangerous predator who saw his victims not as girls or women, but a money-making commodity."
At trial, the jury heard evidence that spanned from approximately 2007 to 2016. Four victims testified about how they each met Mearis while still teenagers and how he won them over with gifts and kindness before using threats, sexual abuse and physical force to compel them into prostitution.
At the hearing, the court heard Mearis trafficked one victim for eight years, during which she "endured his reign of terror."
One girl began a relationship with Mearis, then 32, when she was 17 after she had run away from her home in California. Another victim was 15 when she met Mearis, who was 34 at the time. Both of these girls considered Mearis their boyfriend in the earlier stages of their relationships but were eventually forced to engage in commercial sex in north Houston. One testified that they had to engage in these acts daily and at all times of the day.
Another victim, 14, encountered Mearis, then 41, and eventually ran away to live with him after they met on MocoSpace. She testified he had sexually assaulted her twice while she was with him in 2016.
Testimony revealed Mearis had put at least two of the girls on a peanut butter diet in order to fatten them up for the purpose of working as his prostitute. Evidence also showed text messages between Mearis and several victims demonstrating his constant control over their activities, including during the sex dates themselves. He controlled where they went, what they wore, what they ate and with whom they engaged in commercial sex. The jury saw commercial sex advertisements Mearis created for two of the victims and heard evidence about numerous times he had accessed Backpage, a site formerly used for the purpose of advertising people for sexual activity.
Some victims testified Mearis perpetrated acts of violence upon them, from slapping them across the face to being bound and gagged. They reported multiple instances in which they feared physical retaliation if they did not comply with demands, did not do as instructed or perform sexual acts as required. One victim described violence she experienced at the hands of Mearis following her release from jail.
At one point, when the girls were not making enough money, Mearis made one of them participate in a bank robbery. When it did not go exactly as he had planned, he berated her, calling her stupid, among other things.
That victim also described how she had virtually no relationships with anyone outside Mearis' circle. He had taken her ID, would not let her drive or even use the phone. In trying to find the right word to describe the experience, she testified she felt "kidnapped" at the time and called him in court a "threat to young women." "I felt like I had met the devil," she said.
When she had eventually made it back to her family in California after seeking help from Houston authorities, Mearis contacted her and threatened to call the police about her actions and the bank robbery if she did not return.
Evidence and testimony further established Mearis caused Supplemental Security Income benefits, intended for one of the victims, be directed to him. That victim had been diagnosed with mental retardation at an early age. Mearis himself described her as having the "mental capacity of a child" and could not do the simplest of tasks without constant supervision and instruction.
The defense implied the victims only implicated Mearis to avoid prosecution for their actions. The defense attempted to portray Mearis as simply a loving boyfriend who provided protection while the girls voluntarily engaged in commercial sex. However, testimony revealed the victims had to turn over the monies they earned for sexual acts directly to Mearis.
The jury did not believe the defense claims and found him guilty as charged.
He has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.
Houston man convicted of sex trafficking and ordered to pay $1M