A judge today sentenced Amber Batts, 41, to 5 and a half years in prison for sex trafficking and violating probation.
The conviction is Batts' third felony. Supporters have protested elements of Batts' conviction for running a website that provided prostitution services across Alaska, saying her actions should not be labeled "sex trafficking."
Batts apologized today in court. "I want to be someone my kids and friends can be proud of," she told the judge.
"I'm tired of dragging not just myself but my family through this mess and muck that seems to just happen because I make really bad choices," Batts said in court.
Watch the News Hour for more on the sentencing.
By Chris Klint
Investigators say a woman accused of sex trafficking to roughly 800 clients in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Kenai maintained a slick website and multiple payment methods -- which led straight to her bank account.
A charging document against 39-year-old Anchorage resident Amber Batts, written by Assistant Attorney General Adam Alexander, offers a close-up look at the current face of prostitution in Alaska. Alaska State Troopers say Batts faces three second-degree and four third-degree counts of sex trafficking.
Before Batts got the chance to fight the sex trafficking charges, at a court appearance Thursday she had to deal with a Superior Court petition to revoke her probation for a 2007 aggravated assault conviction.
According to Alexander, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation was first informed of a website allegedly maintained by Batts in April. When investigators visited the site on April 21, they found a variety of sexual services listed at an Anchorage location, as well as “outcalls” to clients’ homes in Fairbanks and Juneau.
“The website advertises for escort services in Alaska, and is organized into different sections, including a FAQ (‘frequently asked questions’) section, ‘providers’ (listing the women being trafficked), terms of service, booking, blog, chat, cams, sensual Alaska store, now hiring and fetish services sub-pages,” Alexander wrote. “The banner page of the website advertises ‘Half hours $200,’ ‘Hours $300,’ and ‘doubles’ for $650 an hour.”
In addition to general information on rates, Batts allegedly included specific information on her own career as a madam.
“In the Blog section the proprietor of the site (later identified as Batts) states that she used to offer sex for money and that she now runs a ‘house,’” Alexander wrote. “In another blog post Batts describes a sexual encounter for money.”
The material on the website also included advice for patrons of the sex trafficking ring.
“The FAQ section of the website also contains a ‘Newbies Guide to Etiquette,’ where potential clients are advised to have cash ‘readily available and in clear view at the beginning of the session,’” Alexander wrote. “The same section states ‘Whatever you do, don’t ask ‘So what am I getting for this?’ She’ll think you are a cop and are wired to record her responses.’”
An examination of the website’s registration revealed that it was owned by one Amber Nickerson, who listed a home address on Brayton Drive in Anchorage. Investigators subsequently determined that Nickerson was one of five aliases used by Batts, whose home address was the same as that listed on the site’s registration. On Wednesday, troopers with search warrants arrived at both Batts’ home and the West 45th Street apartment where the “incall” services were allegedly performed.
Batts was allegedly forthcoming with investigators about her involvement in the ring, saying she vetted both potential prostitutes and clients, with the former signing a contract and the latter being checked against a blacklist of johns.
“Batts stated that she began her trafficking enterprise in 2004,” Alexander wrote. “In 2012 Batts sold her website and sex workers she had working for her to another pimp. He mismanaged them and Batts took the sex workers back and started the website in question, which she built herself.”
The scope of the enterprise quickly became apparent from seizures made during the searches.
“During the execution of the search warrants, investigators found 32 ‘independent contractor’ agreements between Batts and the women she trafficked,” Alexander wrote. “Batts indicated to investigators that they would find evidence related to approximately 800 clients that had been serviced through her enterprise.”
According to Batts, under her business model she provided travel expenses and rooms up-front for prostitutes in the four cities they served. Her payment came after services were rendered.
“Batts stated that her take was $100 out of the $300 charged for an hour of service,” Alexander wrote. “For two sex workers she took $200 out of the $650 charged.”
Far from running a cash-only operation, Alexander says Batts took an array of payment methods familiar to many small businesses.
“Batts admitted taking payment by credit card, cash and PayPal, and stated that she provided a point of sale system to the sex workers that allowed them to accept payment with their phones,” Alexander wrote. “The money from those transactions (was) deposited directly into her account at AlaskaUSA Federal Credit Union. Batts would then pay the sex workers their proceeds by check for those payments received by credit card or PayPal.”
Investigators found a lease agreement for the 45th Avenue apartment at Batts’ home, as well as travel receipts corresponding with Batts’ work coordinating the prostitutes’ logistics. The apartment also featured a drop box for cash, in which sex workers could leave Batts’ cut of the proceeds.
“At the ‘incall’ residence maintained by Batts on West 45th Avenue, investigators found multiple Square (point of sale) credit card readers, and a white dry erase board detailing fees as follows,” Alexander wrote. “‘Half hour $200/$100 drop, hour $300/$100 drop; upcoming trip: Fairbanks first week of July; body rubs rates, half hour $100/$50 drop, hour $150/$75 drop.”
Covenant House, which helps vulnerable young adults, says this type of thing happens all the time.
“We knew of 25 youth in a three-month period between three staff who had a pimp at the time,” said Covenant House’s Josh Louwerse. “You can go up on those websites and find girls that are posted, and you can buy and sell right there.”
Louwerse says sex trafficking often leads to violence and fear, which makes it hard to get out. He says even with limited resources in town, there is help.
“You can call the FBI, you can call APD, but there are organizations that are willing to help, that can get you connected to somebody who can help you get out of what you are in,” Louwerse said. “If you are aware of somebody don't just let it roll, don't let it keep going.”
Batts is scheduled to be arraigned on the sex trafficking charges Friday in Anchorage Jail Court. She was initially held at the jail on $15,000 bail.
For information on how to get out of sex trafficking or prostitution, call
Covenant House at 272-1255.
Channel 2’s Corey Allen-Young and Josh Staab contributed information to this story.