CBS 6 Investigates: Federal agent says sex traffickers are targeting Capital Region teens

Originally published on WRGB CBS 6

Marie was sold for sex as a teen.

Because she was a rape victim, we’re concealing this woman’s identity and referring to her as “Marie”

“I wasn’t even above the age to buy alcohol, so he was buying my liquor for me,” she said.

Marie is from Albany County and currently lives in Schenectady, but when she was 19, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee with her dad to enter treatment for alcohol and heroin addiction. She says she was sober, and working at a restaurant, until she met Michael Lilley.

“We’d go over there and drink, and that’s how I met him because he’d come into the IHOP. I went downhill with my addiction and my alcoholism and my dad didn’t want me in the house with my little brother and it started from there.”

Lilley, who was in his 40’s gave Marie a place to stay in what was called the “backhouse” at his home.

A Memphis television station interviewed Lilley back in 2007, before authorities knew what kind of business he was running in his backyard.

“At first [he] acted like my friend and then acted like I had no other choice but to meet up with these men. My father and I were fighting, I felt like I had nowhere to go, that was my only option,” Marie said.

After nearly 4 years, Marie says she finally escaped Michael Lilley’s grasp with a desperate call to her father, and later authorities raided Lilley’s home after he was caught trafficking girls from nearby high schools. His youngest victim was just 15-years-old.

According to a U.S. Attorney, Lilley would provide drugs and alcohol to the girls and would charge men 60-75 dollars to have sex with them in the backhouse or his van.

Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly says his investigators are working cases like Marie’s, right here in the Capital Region.

“Human trafficking, as the leader of this office, is one of my top priorities. The traffickers have huge control over the victim,” Kelly said.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an estimated 1 in 7 endangered runaways was likely a victim of sex trafficking.

Kelly says the opioid crisis is playing a major factor.

“The people that are being victimised are truly victims, because they’re being preyed upon by another human being who’s telling them to do something they normally wouldn’t do if they weren’t hooked on opioids,” Kelly said.

Special Agent Kelly says drug dealers are now using trafficking to supplement their business, especially as more states have legalised marijuana.

“Drug dealers operate with a business model, and if a business model starts to stumble, you look for other means to supplement the income,” Kelly said.