Data from TellFinder was admitted as evidence for the first time in a US court in a 2019 human trafficking trial in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida. The defendant, Darrius White, was charged with two counts of human trafficking of a minor for commercial sexual activity, one count of unlawful sexual activity with a 17-year-old, and one count of tampering with a witness. White was convicted on all counts.
TellFinder enables law enforcement investigators and prosecutors to search through online advertisements for commercial sex, including historical records and those from defunct websites. Normally, prosecutors subpoena sex ad websites to access original records to use as evidence in the trials of defendants charged with promoting prostitution and sex trafficking. But because some websites, like the popular Backpage.com, are no longer operational, and others - based overseas - lie outside their jurisdiction, prosecutors are unable to use their subpoena powers to access much of this crucial evidence.
White used now-defunct Backpage to post ads of the victim in the case, advertising her for prostitution when she was just 17. Using TellFinder, a state attorney’s office crime analyst discovered the ads posted by White. The ads were used at trial to prove his central role in the victim’s exploitation, which countered his defense claiming that he wasn’t pimping her for sex and was unaware of the activity. They also corroborated the victim’s testimony that she was a minor at the time she was exploited. TellFinder’s director of research engineering, Chris Dickson, presented the evidence and testified as an expert witness at the trial.
Sex Crimes Unit Chief Jenny Rossman of the State Attorney’s Office for the Ninth Judicial Circuit handled the prosecution of the case. The investigation was led by State Attorney’s Office Investigator Nelson Espinosa.