Nova Scotia

N.S. brothers who forced women into sex trade sentenced to 5 years in prison

Two brothers from Dartmouth, N.S., were each sentenced to more than five years in prison Wednesday after admitting to forcing young women into the sex trade and sharing money they took from the women they victimized with their mother and sister.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing and graphic details

Leslie Gray, now 27, is shown following an appearance in Halifax provincial court in July 2019. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Two brothers from Dartmouth, N.S., were each sentenced to more than five years in prison Wednesday after admitting to forcing young women into the sex trade and sharing money they took from the women they victimized with their mother and sister.

Judge Elizabeth Buckle agreed to joint sentencing recommendations put forward by the Crown and the four defence lawyers representing members of the Gray family in Halifax provincial court.

Leslie Gray, 27, pleaded guilty to trafficking four women between 2016 and 2019. He has already been in custody for more than a year and was sentenced to an additional five years and nearly six months in prison.

Justin Gray, 25, will be going to prison for five years over offences involving three women. He pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking and receiving financial or other material benefit coming from the sexual services of two other women. He was also sentenced to an additional month in prison for violating a court order when he called one of the women 30 times from jail.

Leslie Gray, left, and Justin Gray enter Halifax provincial court on March 11, 2020. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Their mother Robin Gray, 59, pleaded guilty to receiving financial or other material benefits knowing it came from sexual services in relation to the same three women. Buckle sentenced her to two years in prison, on top of the time she has spent in custody on remand.

Robin's daughter, Laura Gray, 28, the only one of the four without a criminal record, pleaded guilty to assaulting one of the women, as well as being in possession of property obtained through crime — more than $5,000 her brothers and mother collected from women after they performed sexual services.

Laura Gray, who has two young children, will be under house arrest for the next year and is only allowed to leave for educational purposes and work, and to take her kids to school, school events and medical emergencies.

She'll serve a second year of a conditional sentence with an evening curfew and then will have two additional years of probation.

Laura Gray, 29, will be serving her sentence in the community. (Elizabeth McMillan/CBC)

Crown prosecutor Robert Kennedy told the court the Gray family collectively victimized the young women, whose names are protected by publication bans.

"Whether it was recruitment, grooming, coercion, advertising, in some cases physical violence or threats, brokering sexual services, controlling the woman's movements or receiving financial benefit from prostitution, each Gray family member was a cog in the wheel of this enterprise," he said.

"At no point did the Grays have any concern for the safety or welfare of these young women. They simply cared about the almighty dollar, which was fuelled by unbridled financial greed."

He said they never asked if the women were OK or needed a break.

"Rather, 'Where's the money? The next call is in 20 minutes,'" Kennedy said.

Groomed women into sex trade

Leslie and Justin Gray both admitted to connecting with women they didn't know on social media and then shortly after meeting them, arranging for men to have sex with them. The brothers set up ads, without the women's consent or knowledge, on online classified sites such as LeoList and the now-defunct Backpage.

They arranged for the women to meet men in various apartments in Bedford, Halifax and Dartmouth, as well as hotels. They threatened violence or were violent if the women refused to go through with the appointments and took some or all of the money the women earned.

One woman would make $160 for half an hour or $240 an hour for a variety of sex acts. In one case, Leslie Gray set up a "bare call" for her — an appointment for her to have unprotected sex with a man. The woman refused and the man chased her with a baseball bat.

Crown prosecutor Robert Kennedy says the Grays worked together to prey on vulnerable women. (CBC)

Justin Gray admitted to forcing another women to earn up to $2,000 a day and gave her drugs so that she could keep working. The woman escaped barefoot from the Gray's home after calling her mother to pick her up.

Kennedy said the men targeted young women and forced them into a form of slavery. He said the women were young, had no income and had precarious living situations. One had been couch-surfing and another was under a court order not to live with her mother.

They had "very little to no family support, and the Grays would prey upon that vulnerability. Some of them are still involved in this lifestyle, some have become addicted to drugs, dealing with mental-health issues, it has had a significant toll on these individuals," Kennedy said in an interview at the courthouse.

Trafficking history

He said Robin Gray leased the apartments where the offences occurred and fostered an environment of "degradation and subjection" by belittling the women, trying to control their behaviour and telling them she'd kick them out if they didn't comply. She took a cut of the earnings if a service occurred in her bedroom.

At one point, Robin Gray ordered one woman to earn $200 a day or she'd have to move out of the Gray's unheated basement. She pressured two other women to keep selling sexual services in order to provide her sons Leslie and Justin with canteen and phone money in jail. She told one of them she had to work to cover Leslie's legal fees.

Robin, Justin and Leslie Gray will all be heading to federal prisons. (Robert Short/CBC)

In 2018, Buckle sentenced Leslie Gray to 16 months in jail after he pleaded guilty in another human trafficking case where he admitted to threatening to cut his victim into pieces. The Crown pointed out that one of the new offences occurred just months after he finished that sentence.

When delivering her decision Wednesday, Buckle said she took into account the mitigating circumstances that the Grays pleaded guilty, which spared the women from having to testify and being cross-examined by the four defence lawyers.

She also acknowledged that the Grays are members of marginalized communities and that they grew up in poverty in a violent household. Buckle said that didn't excuse their behaviour, but it provided some explanation for it.

No victim impact statements

All four Grays are prohibited from contacting the women involved in the case, none of whom chose to submit victim impact statements.

"They want to be done with it. They have moved on and they don't want to be associated with the Grays anymore and being in court to deal with them once again is the last thing they want to do," said Kennedy outside the courtroom.

Buckle said she didn't need statements to conclude they would be experiencing lifelong impacts stemming from the trafficking.

Initially, all four members of the family pleaded not guilty to 23 pimping-related charges. The other 11 charges were dropped Wednesday.

Another member of the family, Andre Gray, pleaded guilty to uttering death threats in the case where Leslie Gray admitted to threatening to cut his victim into pieces. Andre Gray was sentenced to 112 days in jail and three years probation. He has also been convicted of forcible confinement in another case and has faced other trafficking-related charges.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 11 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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