By Liam Collins | May 18, 2021 at 4:56 PM EDT – Updated May 18 at 8:14 PM
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – A drug investigation led to the sentencing of a Jacksonville man law enforcement say led a massive sex trafficking operation in Onslow County and on Camp Lejeune.
Jesse Marks, 38, a former Marine, was sentenced to 30 years in prison earlier this month for what police call his essential role in an extensive prostitution ring, which investigators believe countless active-duty Marines were clients.
“Jesse Marks was using his experience as having been a Marine to teach his victims how to get Marines on base to either buy drugs or buy prostitution from him,” said Erin Blondel, the assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute the case.
Several law enforcement agencies, including the Onslow County Sheriff’s Office, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Jacksonville Police Department, were involved in the investigation that put Marks behind bars. They shared additional information Tuesday about the decades-long ring that culminated in a prosecution on May 7.
Information revealed in the investigation led law enforcement to believe an unknown number of active-duty Marines were a part of the operation, and that a majority of the clients were also former or active duty Marines.
“Cell phone data, computer data, email records and website records did not provide evidence or actionable intelligence regarding specific Marines,” said NCIS Special Agent Sean Devinny.
Investigators say the ring included at least 300 women, including some minors. Victim accounts detailed that Marks would get the women addicted to drugs and then use their addictions to force them into prostitution. Investigators say Marks also drugged the women and would sexually assault them after they were unconscious. Some of the assaults were recorded, according to prosecutors.
“Our community and our citizens are better off because Mr. Marks is where he needs to be,” said Sheriff Hans Miller. “And there will be more to come.”
Law enforcement personnel said information revealed in the investigation has led them to pursue more leads in this ring, even though the case against Marks himself is closed.
The sentencing also included restitution payments of $249,700 total to the victims. A small price to pay, advocates say, for the lifelong emotional and psychological toll the women face for the rest of their lives.
“That trauma and the repairs of that, like the ongoing counseling, just the addiction that comes as a result of being traumatized,” said Traci Klein, Executive Director at True Justice International, an organization providing resources for survivors of sex trafficking. “The addiction itself can take years to overcome. It is ongoing. It can take years.”
If you or someone you know needs resources, you can call the National Sex Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.
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