A man accused of trafficking women is now accused of continuously contacting a witness

A Bountiful man charged with trafficking women and drugs is now charged with witness tampering and breaching pre-trial protective orders after a special agent from the attorney general’s office said he contacted a victim. A judge on Wednesday refused to dismiss the aggravated human trafficking charges. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Bountiful man charged with trafficking women and drugs is now charged with witness tampering and breaching pretrial protective orders, after a special agent with the Utah Attorney General’s Office said he had contacted a victim.

Michael Joe Ricks, 51, was charged a year ago in 3rd District Court with 15 felonies and misdemeanors, including two counts of aggravated human trafficking for forced sexual exploitation, first-degree felonies ; two counts of aggravated exploitation of prostitution, engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, money laundering and three counts of drug possession with intent to distrust, second degree felonies.

On Wednesday, 3rd District Judge Kristine Johnson denied a motion by Ricks’ attorney seeking to dismiss both charges of aggravated human trafficking.

Ricks’ attorney, W. Andrew McCullough, argued that the charges were based on unconstitutional or “broad and unduly vague” law. McCullough and Kaytlin Becket of the Utah Attorney General’s Office debated the issue in a virtual hearing Sept. 21; Becket argued that the unconstitutional agreement would apply to exotic dancing but not prostitution and that Ricks’ charges should stand.

At a hearing on Thursday, attorneys discussed the discovery and set another court date for Ricks’ case. A trial is not yet scheduled, but a judge ruled there was enough evidence to order Ricks to stand trial on the charges.

On August 31, Ricks was charged with six counts of witness tampering and three counts of breaching a pretrial protective order, all third-degree felonies. Charging documents say he repeatedly contacted one of the three victims in the case.

On October 12, 2021, shortly after his initial charges were filed, Ricks received protective orders prohibiting him from having contact with the three victims and one other person – directly or indirectly. However, the charging documents indicate that Ricks asked a cellmate to contact one of the victims, with whom he had previously had sex. The cellmate allegedly asked the victim to get a new phone number and email address that Ricks could use to communicate with her.

The charging documents state that the emails sent by Ricks to this address appear to be journal or diary entries, but are clearly directed to this victim, who replied to Ricks using his personal email address. Emails sent by Ricks, which were cited in the charging documents, indicated whether witnesses would testify and said he hoped they would not so the case could be dismissed.

“I have to admit that I would be very hurt if (victim) (testified),” one email said.

The emails also asked if this victim could talk to another victim and try to convince this victim to say they lied. In the correspondence, the charges say Ricks constantly mentioned that he was unable to contact the victims due to the protective order.

Patrick Kevin Driscoll of Salt Lake City is facing trial in a related case and has been charged with aiding Ricks’ prostitution and human trafficking activities. Driscoll is a former Salt Lake City IT employee and is accused of using information he had access to because of his position to help Ricks avoid being arrested by the police.

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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers court and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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