A Missoula man accused of trafficking women and minor girls for sex told a federal jury Monday that he was trying to start an escort service, not pimp women and girls, after he got released from state prison for prostituting women.
Terrance Tyrell Edwards, 35, said he pleaded guilty to the state felony because he was guilty but that an escort service is legal.
Edwards said the difference is that women providing escort services are not required to have sex. Rather they provide companionship to men looking to “get that vibrant feeling back,” he said.
Edwards is on trial in U.S. District Court in Billings and testified in his own defense Monday as the trial entered its second week.
Federal prosecutors allege Edwards brought women and teenage girls to Billings and Missoula for prostitution from March 2016 to September 2016. Law enforcement arrested Edwards in Billings in September 2016 as he returned from North Dakota with three teenage girls he is accused of recruiting and supplying with marijuana.
The prosecution called women, identified as victims in the case, who testified about working as prostitutes for Edwards.
Some witnesses told of rules Edwards had, like not looking at his male friends in the eyes, telling them to call him “Daddy” and forcing them to swallow his spit as a loyalty test. One witness said Edwards backhanded her and split her lip when she looked at one of his male friends and that he bit her on the shoulder.
Prosecutors also allege Edwards used text messages, Facebook, phone calls and other communications to influence and coerce prostitution and to obstruct the investigation.
Edwards faces 10 counts including sex trafficking by force or correction, obstruction, a drug charge and witness tampering.
Edwards’ co-defendant, Francine Joann Granados, 32, of Moorhead, Minnesota, faces one count of witness tampering.
In daylong testimony, Edwards described trying to set up an escort service and his relationships with women. Edwards said he was trying to help women, including the alleged victims, make money through escorting and was the “ad manager” in writing content for ads posted on backpage.com, where clients advertised for customers.
Edwards also said he was trying to make money by selling leather purses and beaded accessories he designed while in prison and had other inmates make. He said he was looking for women to model his products.
Edwards’ attorney, Palmer Hoovestal of Helena, asked him if escort services involve sex.
“Absolutely not,” Edwards answered.
Dressed in a black dress shirt and black slacks, Edwards appeared relaxed on the stand and often gave lengthy, and at times rambling, responses to questions.
Edwards said escort services draw a broad range of clientele, from unhappily married men, to pillars in the community who are looking for discretion, to “nerdy types” and the “low self-esteem type of guy.”
The job is to make clients “feel special” and to “get that vibrant feeling back into themselves,” Edwards said. The clients are looking for young, beautiful, elegant women, he said. Activities could range from talking to topless massages or lap dances, he said. Rates varied from $300 for two hours to $2,500 for 12 hours, he said.
Hoovestal asked if Edwards’ description of escort services opened the door to misunderstandings about what goes on.
“All the time,” Edwards said.
Edwards also described the importance of engaging phone communications and that at one point he was looking for a “receptionist” because “no one wants to talk to me. I would never do that.”
Hoovestal asked Edwards to describe the vernacular he used, noting he was “clearly black” and that he talked differently on the witness stand than in phone calls.
Edwards said his speech was more relaxed and loose with people he was comfortable around and came from an inner city hip hop culture. “If I’m at work, this is the way I talk,” he said about his testimony.
“I use the word ‘bitch’ a lot. It’s just a word to me. That one word I could use a million different ways,” he said.
Edwards denied requiring women to call him, “Daddy,” and that it had nothing to do with prostitution. Edwards said a woman once called him “Daddy” during sex and that he liked it.
What the prosecution calls his rules, Edwards called “preferences.”
Edwards said two women with whom he had long-term relationships slept with his close friends and that he doesn’t like women showing interest in his guy friends.
“I don’t like my women to be too chummy with my male friends,” Edwards said. “Call it insecurity if you have to,” he said.
Edwards admitted he “slapped” one of the women, who testified against him, when she looked at one of his friends and that he bit her another time. “That was during sex. She liked it,” he said.
Edwards also said he had “no idea why” he had women swallow his spit but that it wasn’t a loyalty test.
Edwards said he was seeing two women at the time and was lying in bed with one of them and asked if he could spit in her mouth. She agreed, he said. He told the other woman about it and wanted to see if she, too, would let him do it.
“She let me do it. I was just joshing around,” he said.
If convicted on the sex trafficking counts, Edwards faces a minimum mandatory 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The trial continues with U.S. District Judge Susan Watters presiding.