The first in what is expected to be a string of guilty pleas has been entered in an alleged multistate prostitution ring centered in Springfield, Ill.
The first in what is expected to be a string of guilty pleas has been entered in an alleged multistate prostitution ring centered in Springfield.
Shirley Ollis traveled from her home in Wise, N.C., to Springfield last week to plead guilty as charged. Her punishment ranges from probation with home confinement, if she cooperates with prosecutors and receives a lenient sentence, to 25 years’ imprisonment, said assistant U.S. attorney Patrick Chelsey.
Sentencing is set for April.
Sixteen other defendants remain, all, like Ollis, charged with conspiracy and enticing women to cross state lines to engage in prostitution. Neither Chelsey nor Michael Costello, Ollis’ lawyer, would say Monday whether she is cooperating with prosecutors to get a reduced sentence.
Chelsey said attorneys for five or six defendants have told him that their clients will also plead guilty, and Costello predicted that everyone will eventually plead rather than face trial.
Ollis is 60 years old, 13 co-defendants are at least 50, and three are in their 70s. Most have been declared indigent so their legal expenses are paid by the public, and any of them could be your neighbor, Costello said.
“They are nice old ladies,” Costello said. “This is not some high-power, $2 million house of prostitution.”
Wise, Ollis’ unincorporated hometown, lies alongside railroad tracks not far from Beaverdam Road, at the end of a T-intersection where Michaels Quarry Road meets State Highway One.
“We’re a very small, rural area,” said Paula Pulley, finance officer and town clerk in nearby Norlina, population 1,100 and one of just three incorporated towns in the county where Ollis lives.
More than 900 miles to the west, Letha Deanna Dean, 61, of Pleasant Plains coordinated the prostitution ring that stretched to nearly a dozen states, prosecutors allege. The investigation started in Springfield.
“They’re (co-defendants are) almost like spokes on a wheel,” said Jon Gray Noll, lawyer for co-defendant Alecia McGuire of St. Louis. “They may be technically within one conspiracy, but people at the end of some spokes don’t know people at the ends of other spokes. Letha Dean is the alleged hub.”
John Madonia, appointed by the court to serve as Dean’s attorney, said he doesn’t believe Ollis’ plea will affect his client’s case except to serve as a barometer indicating what kind of punishment to expect.
“I would submit that we are looking into the possibility of doing an acceptance of responsibility or change of plea, but it would be premature to decide if that’s in her best interest,” Madonia said.
While the alleged criminals are inconspicuous, Costello said alleged customers would raise eyebrows — if they ever are publicly identified.
“You’d be surprised who’s been participants in Sangamon County,” said Costello, who declined to name names. “I told my client, after she read the documents, to burn them, and she did.”