A federal indictment unsealed Tuesday alleges a Wisconsin man and a female accomplice forced four women to travel between Utah and several other states to engage in prostitution.
Ontario Lowery, 34, of LaCrosse, Wisc., was arraigned Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke Wells. He pleaded not guilty to the nine counts listed in the indictment.
Alyssa K. Turtenwald, 22, also of LaCrosse, remains at large.
Prosecutors allege that in July 2011, the pair allegedly coerced, threatened and forced two women to travel between Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Nevada, California and Utah to engage in prostitution. They placed ads on escort service websites to solicit customers, who met the women at hotels where they were staying. The two women were arrested in July 2011 in Salt Lake City and told police they were afraid to flee because the man physically assaulted them, confiscated their identification cards, slept with the car keys and kept all the money they earned.
Lowery and Turtenwald, however, were not apprehended at that time.
They allegedly then coerced at least one other woman into prostitution, according to the indictment. The group stopped in Utah on Oct. 17 while traveling to Denver. While in Salt Lake City, the woman was allowed to go outside to walk a dog and was able to text her sister the name of the hotel and room number where she was being held. The sister contacted police. Lowery was held briefly and then released before being re-arrested on Nov. 13.
Wells set a seven-day trial to begin Feb. 3.
One of the counts Lowery faces — sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion — carries a potential penalty of 15 years to life; the others carry individual terms ranging from five years to life. Lowery also faces a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.