- June 22, 2023
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Sexual Assault & Trafficking
A year and a half ago, a Cherokee County police officer performed a traffic stop on a vehicle containing a man in his late 30s and an underage girl. The girl seized the opportunity and told the officer that the man, Mark Thomas, had been sex trafficking her for the past three months, starting when she was 15 years old.
The investigation that followed resulted in six arrests and, so far, five convictions for sex trafficking. Thomas himself has received two life sentences. His accomplice, Cedric Johnson, admitted to accepting proceeds from the trafficking of the girl, and three other men, Jose Medina Dominguez, Cesar Juarez Oaxaca, and Ruben Tolentino, all admitted to buying or attempting to buy sexual interactions with the girl, knowing that she was underage. All are expected to serve anywhere from 7-13 years.
When law enforcement successfully breaks up a sex trafficking operation like this one, there are usually two questions left open, no matter how neatly the criminal proceedings wrap up:
- Do the traffickers have any other victims who have yet to be identified?
- What comes next for the survivors?
Typically, police will make an effort to answer the first question, but it’s extremely difficult to be sure no one has slipped through the cracks, especially if the victims are afraid to come forward.
The second question falls beyond the scope of the criminal justice system. Criminal proceedings focus on convictions and sentencing, not on compensating and caring for victims.
Building a life after escaping from sex trafficking is a challenging process, and people targeted by sex traffickers usually have very few resources to begin with. In order to fund a peaceful, successful recovery, survivors usually need to pursue a civil lawsuit against one or more their victimizers.
A Clerk at the Economy Hotel Stands Accused of Knowingly Collaborating with Thomas
The sixth suspect currently facing sex trafficking charges in this case is Dionte Johnson, a former clerk at the Economy Hotel Atlanta, at 4265 Shirley Drive, just off of Fulton Industrial Blvd near the I-20.
The allegations against him include providing Thomas with hotel rooms knowing that he intended to use them for sex trafficking, accepting kickbacks from Thomas, and also soliciting the victim himself.
Determining the exact involvement of businesses like Economy Hotel is crucial to this victim’s future, because unlike individual traffickers, complicit hotel chains are usually capable of compensating survivors, if forced to in civil court.
Regardless of whether Dionte Johnson is ultimately convicted, the Economy Hotel can very likely be held liable for failing to do enough to prevent sex trafficking on its property. In fact, any hotels in the area that catered to Mark Thomas may be liable, whether their employees were actively involved, or simply poorly trained to recognize signs of sex trafficking.
Sex Trafficking Survivors Have the Right to Sue all Complicit Businesses
Legally, anyone who knowingly supports sex trafficking is guilty of sex trafficking. This includes companies that know (or should know) that traffickers are using their services, and do nothing to stop them.
Sex trafficking survivors are not required to choose just one guilty party to seek compensation from. A person who has been sold for sex out of a dozen different hotel chains can sue all of them, and possibly other businesses, such as adult advertising platforms, that made the exploitation possible.
If you are the girl who reported Mark Thomas, or if you have also been victimized by him or any other sex trafficker working out of Georgia motels, reach out to the Stoddard Firm to learn more about your options. We have extensive experience representing survivors of sex trafficking, and we always strive to make the process as comfortable and stress-free as possible. We’ll help you get the compensation you deserve, hold wealthy companies accountable, and cut sex traffickers off from the corporate support they depend on.