After denying she was the victim of human trafficking, Phylicia Monique Zubia was convicted and sentenced for promotion of prostitution in court Tuesday.
Investigators from the Montana Division of Criminal investigations arrested Zubia, 22, and a 17-year-old girl in a Billings hotel room on Dec. 23, 2015. The investigators arranged to meet with Zubia and the girl after finding pictures of the women on a Backpage.com post. In the post the women were advertising sex for money.
The two women had traveled through New Mexico, Texas and North Dakota before being caught in Billings.
At Zubia's sentencing Tuesday, Yellowstone County Judge Michael Moses gave Zubia a deferred sentence of three years to the Montana Department of Corrections.
Ole Olson, an assistant attorney with the Montana Attorney General's office, recommended Zubia be given a suspended sentence of five years to the Montana Women's Prison. Zubia never said she was a victim of a pimp in this case, Olson said. If she ever wanted the felony wiped from her record, she could avail herself of the human trafficking protections the state offers, Olson said.
Zubia's public defender, Edward Werner, said his client shouldn't have to admit she was a victim, and there was no question she was a victim of society. Werner recommended the deferred sentence, adding he believed everyone in the courtroom wanted to see Zubia moving forward with her life. A deferred sentence would give her a better chance at improving her future, Werner said.
Zubia had a conviction for solicitation from 2013, and Moses wanted to make sure Zubia was done with prostitution.
"Frankly, I think there is a pimp involved, a good friend of yours I assume," Moses said. "But if you're done, that means done with everything. I like the prospect of a deferred imposition of sentence."
Zubia's three years of supervision will be completed in her home state of New Mexico. Time on supervision will be closer to two years since she was given credit toward her sentence for the 182 days she spent jailed at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility.
The 17-year-old in the hotel with Zubia was extradited to New Mexico for a parole violation. She was immune from charges of prostitution due to a 2015 Montana legislative change that allows for underage victims of human trafficking to not be prosecuted.
The man suspected of being Zubia's pimp, Lavondrick Terelle Hogues, 29, pleaded not guilty to aggravated promotion of prostitution earlier this year.
Hogues' prosecution reflects a shift during the past two legislative sessions regarding the way sexual exploitation cases are being handled in the state.
The same bill that decriminalized the acts of minors subjected to human trafficking also created the affirmative defense, which allows for victims to be identified as such, even if they committed illegal acts while being trafficked. This not only protects them from criminal prosecution but allows them to receive victim services in the state.