Generous man accused of exploitation of prostitution and drug trafficking

A Utah man was arrested Tuesday on charges of instigating women into prostitution and selling drugs, police said. (Shutterstock)

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SALT LAKE CITY – A Bountiful man was arrested on Tuesday after police said he made sex workers work for him and sell drugs.

Michael Joe Ricks, 49, was incarcerated in Salt Lake County Jail on charges of aggravated exploitation of prostitution, exploitation of prostitution, aiding in prostitution, distributing drugs and two counts of knowingly providing drug.

The investigation began in March when a woman told investigators from the Utah Attorney General’s Office that Ricks was involved in the distribution of heroin, methamphetamine and prescription drugs, according to a booking affidavit from the police.

“(The woman) reported to (authorities) that the same person was involved in the exploitation of women in the commercial sex industry and that she was specifically a victim of that person,” the affidavit reads.

Investigators believe Ricks would recruit women to work for him, then manipulate and control them once they started working for him.

The woman told investigators she met Ricks through an adult commercial sex website. In addition to offering to help find clients for the woman, Ricks allegedly told her that he would provide her with a car, food, shelter and provide her with places to meet the clients.

“In return, Ricks would take 30% of all profits made by (the woman),” the affidavit states.

The woman said Ricks threatened and forced her to engage in sexual acts with clients even when she was sick or unwilling, according to the affidavit. Ricks is accused of having also sold heroin to the woman and to certain clients.

The woman told police that Ricks “would have multiple women that he manages and uses multiple locations for it,” and the affidavit alleges that “Ricks used the same method of recruiting to entice them to work for him by indulging in to the sex trade. “

Investigators noted that as of Tuesday, they had “discovered” 26 potential victims, but had “identified” only 13.

The attorney general’s office on Tuesday served four search warrants in Salt Lake and Davis counties in connection with the case and “found an abundance of evidence relating to drug distribution, exploitation of prostitution and human trafficking, ”according to the affidavit. Some of the evidence seized included distributable amounts of cocaine, marijuana and Suboxone in addition to several thousand dollars in cash, police said.

Nate Mutter, an agent with the attorney general’s office, said the warrants were served in two apartments in Salt Lake County, a shed in Bountiful and Ricks’ house in a quiet neighborhood on East Bank of Bountiful. He said it is a prime example of how human trafficking “happens anywhere and everywhere”.

“I don’t know if anyone would have seen Mr Ricks as a trafficker. But in our opinion he did some pretty blatant things,” Mutter said.

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