A Montana woman told a federal jury in Billings how she got into prostitution through Terrance Tyrell Edwards — the man to whom she gave money she made from having sex with men who responded to ads on a website.
The woman also testified how Edwards beat and threatened her if she didn’t do what he wanted and that she had to prove her loyalty by swallowing his spit.
Edwards, 35, of Missoula, and co-defendant Francine Joann Granados, 32, of Moorhead, Minnesota, are on trial in an investigation in which Edwards faces 10 counts including sex trafficking by force through coercion, obstruction, a drug charge and witness tampering.
Granados faces one count of witness tampering.
Prosecutors say Edwards used women and brought teenage girls to Montana for prostitution from about March 2016 to September 2016, when he got arrested in Billings. Edwards had returned to Billings with three teenage girls he had recruited from North Dakota and Minnesota, prosecutors said.
Palmer Hoovestal, Edwards’ defense attorney, said Edwards was running a legal escort service to provide companionship to lonely men, not forcing women to work as prostitutes.
Edwards didn’t ask the women to do anything they were uncomfortable doing or didn’t want to do, the defense said.
In testimony Tuesday, one of the prosecution’s first witnesses, identified in this story as “E,” said she met Edwards in Missoula and that initially they had a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.
But the relationship changed and Edwards got her into prostitution with ads in which he wrote the content and had photos of her posted in the Missoula escort service section of a website, the woman said.
The intent of the ads, she testified, was to “go on dates for commercial sex.”
During her testimony, the woman spoke in a soft voice and avoided looking at Edwards, who was seated at the defense table.
The woman said she didn’t have sex on her first date because the client saw that she was really nervous, asked for a back massage and paid $150.
She said she went on two more dates in which she had sex.
The woman, who was 21 at the time, said Edwards beat her when she didn’t do what he wanted and made her call him “Daddy” and forced her to swallow his spit to prove her loyalty before they became intimate.
When Edwards accused her of making eye contact with one of his friends and violating his rule against “reckless eyeballing,” or looking at other men who were not clients, Edwards backhanded her, causing her lip to split and bleed, she said.
The witness further testified how she set up a sex date for another woman, who wanted to get into the activity, and sat in the car while the woman had sex with a man for $150. The woman then gave her $75, which she said she gave to Edwards.
The witness also said she used condoms provided by Edwards and that he kept them in the back seat of his car.
Under questioning by Edwards’ attorney, Palmer Hoovestal, the woman maintained that swallowing Edwards’ spit was a loyalty test, not an act of intimacy. “He did it so, I don’t know, to see if I’d be loyal,” she said.
The woman also said Edwards never told her she didn’t have to do anything she was uncomfortable doing.
When Hoovestal asked the witness what an escort service was, she replied, “I have no idea. I think an escort is a prostitute.”
And while her online ad didn’t explicitly advertise for sex, the witness said most people who use the site are looking for commercial sex and rates. “They want you there for a reason,” she said.
When Hoovestal suggested Edwards was more of an abusive boyfriend, the witness said, “I think it was a little more than that,” and called Edwards “super controlling and manipulative.”
The witness said she never called law enforcement because it would be “pointless.” Edwards had told her he had other family who would “do things” and have “his back,” she said.
Edwards, who has two prior felony prostitution arrests in Missoula, had a suspended sentence revoked in 2012 and was sentenced to five years in Montana State Prison. If convicted on the sex trafficking counts, Edwards faces a minimum mandatory 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The trial, which began on Monday, is expected to last eight to 10 days. U.S. District Judge Susan Watters is presiding.