Des Moines man gets life sentence on sex-trafficking charges

By: - November 18, 2021 9:47 am
nterior of an empty courtroom with gavel and sounding block on the desk.

A Des Moines man has been sentenced to life in prison on charges on charges of sex trafficking. (Photo by Getty Images)

A Des Moines man has been sentenced to life in prison on charges on charges of sex trafficking.

Marlin Santana Thomas, 46, was sentenced this week to life in prison for trafficking six people by force, fraud and coercion, for the purpose of having them engage in commercial sex acts.

In May, Thomas pleaded guilty to the charges and admitted to trafficking a 14- year-old victim. In his written plea agreement, Thomas said he began human trafficking in 2009, nine years before his arrest in February 2018 on drug charges that grew out of a separate federal drug investigation. That arrest resulted in convictions and a prison term Thomas is currently serving.

At Thomas’ sentencing this week on the sex-trafficking charges, Des Moines Police Sgt. Brady Carney testified that in addition to the six victims tied to Thomas’ conviction, he had interviewed 11 women Thomas had either raped, assaulted or attempted to traffic for sex.

As part of his plea agreement, Thomas admitted using physical violence against all six of his victims in an effort to force them into engaging in commercial sex acts. He admitted punching one victim in the face and assaulting another in her home after she told Thomas she was done working for him.

Thomas also admitted to arranging for a 14-year-old to engage in commercial sex acts, knowing that she was not an adult. He said he posted online escort advertisements, then transported his victims to hotels and motels in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and North Dakota.

Thomas allegedly targeted vulnerable individuals, in part by approaching women who lived at residential treatment centers and by providing drugs to women who were already struggling with addiction.

At Thomas’ sentencing this week, U.S. District Court Chief Judge John A. Jarvey characterized the crimes as depraved, stating that Thomas had treated humans like currency. He also found Thomas had engaged in serial rape and noted that Thomas had not expressed any remorse for his crimes.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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