RALEIGH – A federal jury convicted a Smithfield man Friday of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion and of a minor; sex trafficking by force fraud and coercion; sex trafficking of a minor; using the internet to promote a prostitution business enterprise (ITAR); and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Jonathan Lynn Jenkins, aka “Max,” 48, and his co-conspirator prostituted many women between November 2014 and October 2015, including minors. The victims were young, vulnerable, and often struggling to survive. After luring the victims with promises of food, shelter, and a better life, Jenkins and his co-conspirator manipulated and controlled the victims’ lives, isolating them, withholding food, and keeping all money the victims earned.
The defendant beat and choked the victims, sometimes to unconsciousness. He emotionally and psychologically abused them. Among other threats, he claimed to have magical powers that allowed him to hunt down victims and kill them. He sexually assaulted victims and forced them into sexual acts against their will. And he attempted to murder a man who helped one victim escape.
Acting United States Attorney Acker stated: “Human Trafficking – the horrible exploitation of those vulnerable among us – is one of the worst and most intolerable crimes we prosecute. It is simply modern-day slavery and cannot be tolerated. This verdict allows us to take another step in the right direction as we work to eliminate this crime and its terrible consequences for our communities.”
“This sentence ensures that Jenkins, a serial offender, will not be able to continue his reign of terror on some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Ronnie Martinez, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in North Carolina. “I’m thankful for the hard work from HSI and its partners that led to investigating, arresting and prosecuting this predator.”
Jenkins faces a mandatory minimum sentence of fifteen years’ imprisonment and a maximum sentence of life.
G. Norman Acker, III, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge James C. Dever III accepted the verdict. The Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, the Raleigh Police Department, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, and the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erin Blondel and Lucy Brown are prosecuting the case.
In 2006, Jenkins was charged and convicted for the 1998 execution style slaying of Joseph Richard Vestal at the Clayton Estates Mobile Home Park. Jenkins was not charged for 8 years until DNA evidence was found on a mask he wore. During sentencing Jenkins claimed he was a devout Christian with a wife and three children. He served less than 8 years in prison for the crime.
In 2016, Jenkins was arrested in the 17 year murder investigation of Elton Demond Whitfield who was reported missing to Clayton Police in March 1999. His body was discovered in April 1999 in a field near Lake Myra Road in Wake County.