A New Mexico man was sentenced to jail on Friday for encouraging the prostitution of a minor in Billings.
Lavondrick Terrele Hogues, 35, was sentenced to 15 years in Montana State Prison, three of which were suspended. The case against Hogues spanned six years, with developments captured in hundreds of pages of court filings. Members of Hogues’ family were present in court when Yellowstone County District Court Judge Donald L. Harris handed down the sentence.
“I think you can change your life. I believe you have a close relationship with your family and support your family. I believe it, and I don’t believe you’re a bad man. I do believe though… that you have committed a very, very serious offence,” Harris said.
In December 2015, a Billings-based Montana Department of Justice undercover agent responded to an ad posted on the now-defunct classifieds website Backpage.com. The officer called the number listed in the ad, which said two women were available as escorts, according to court documents. A woman answered and told him it would be $400 for an hour or $300 for half an hour. The officer met the woman in person on the first floor of a Billings hotel the same day, and she showed him to a room. In the room was a 17-year-old girl.
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After identifying himself as a police officer, the officer spoke to the two. The woman, later identified as Phylicia Zubia, told him she and the girl had met three weeks prior in New Mexico, according to court documents. The two then traveled to towns in Texas, North Dakota, and eventually Billings to work as prostitutes. Zubia was charged in Yellowstone County District Court with promoting prostitution, while the 17-year-old returned to New Mexico.
The officer then obtained recordings of Zubia making multiple calls to a New Mexico number while incarcerated at the Yellowstone County Detention Center. She spoke with a man later identified by investigators as Hogues.
Prosecutors alleged that Hogues acted as a pimp for Zubia and the 17-year-old, according to information gathered from those tapes and two of Zubia’s cellphones. Texts in between showed Hogues receiving updates on money earned and customers seen, as well as requests to electronically transfer money. Zubia and Hogues stayed in contact for weeks after his arrest, according to the charging documents. Charges were filed against Hogues in January 2016.
Zubia was convicted and sentenced for promoting prostitution in September 2016, denying that she was a victim of human trafficking or that Hogues was her pimp. She received a three-year suspended sentence at the Montana Department of Corrections, with the nearly six months she spent at the YCDF credited towards her sentence.
Hogues posted $25,000 bond in August 2016 after pleading not guilty to a felony charge of aggravated promotion of prostitution, the Gazette previously reported. When he failed to appear for a court hearing in July 2017, then-District Judge Russell Fagg issued a $20,000 warrant for his arrest. He did not appear in court again in Billings until March 2020.
Following a series of motions to continue, the case went to trial over a year later. Both the Montana Criminal Investigation Division and the Billings Police Department assisted in the investigation. Montana DOJ attorneys prosecuted the case.
“[Hogues]… controlled, managed, and supervised the activity of prostitution, alone or in association with Phylicia Zubia, through text messages, phone calls, and other communications and evidence,” Assistant Attorney General Chris McConnell wrote in a brief. submitted before Hogues’ trial in June. 2021.
Joshua Kotter, then Hogues’ defense attorney, argued in court that the backbone of the evidence used against Hogues, conversations collected from cellphones, were hearsay. Prosecutors could not prove, he wrote in a brief, that it was in fact Hogues who spoke with Zubia during those conversations.
Prior to trial, Kotter attempted to have the case dismissed in part on the grounds that the state lacked jurisdiction to charge Hogues because he was living in New Mexico at the time of the allegation. Justice Harris denied the motion.
Hogues was found guilty of aggravated promotion of prostitution on June 16, 2021 by a unanimous jury. Harris presided over the four-day trial and denied Hogues’ bail request before his sentencing.
Attorney Penelope Strong, who represented Hogues for his sentencing, asked the court for a 10-year sentence in the Montana Department of Corrections, with all those years suspended. Speaking in court on Friday, she argued that while she and Hogues respected the seriousness of the offense, he and his family would be better served with time outside of jail or limited to the DoC and with counseling.
Unlike sex trafficking, Strong wrote in a sentencing memorandum before that hearing, there was “no fraud, coercion or violence” involved in the case, and Hogues apparently did not know the age of the victim. Zubia, who appeared by teleconference to give evidence at sentencing, said she was the one who posted the ads online and traveled with the victim. She also said she handled all monetary transactions between the men who had paid for sex with her and the 17-year-old, as well as transfers to Hogues. The victim testified at Hogues’ trial in 2021, while Zubia, although the court issued him a subpoena, did not.
Strong asked Judge Harris to consider letters submitted to the court by Hogues’ family describing him as a good son, brother and father, as well as the victim being “very close to an adult” as mitigating factors in his sentencing.
Assistant District Attorney Melissa Broch rebuked both counts, recommending a 20-year MSP sentence. She said it was ironic that Hogues was asking the court for leniency in his sentence for the sake of his children when the victim of his crime was, in fact, a child. Evidence presented at trial showed that she was vulnerable due to her family’s neglect and drug addiction. He exploited this vulnerability through Zubia, she said, and under no circumstances is it appropriate to exploit a child for profit.
Hogues showed up well at his trial and Friday’s hearing, Judge Harris said before sentencing. He said he saw Hogues’ attitude as a “Jekyll and Hyde”, with Hyde appearing in transcripts of conversations between Hogues and Zubia while she was in prison. Harris described the calls as “abusive”, “controlling” and “intimidating”, revealing that he was ready to take advantage of a child having repeated sex with adult men.
“I find no reason to say that prostituting a 17-year-old is any less serious than prostituting a 16-year-old, a 15-year-old, or any other child,” Harris said.
Hogues had previous convictions in New Mexico for drug trafficking and assault. Harris has set several conditions on his parole that will limit his contact with minors upon his release from prison.
“Everything happens for a reason, including this situation, and I’d like to think that this case that’s happening is a course fix for everyone involved…I’m happy regardless of the outcome. I’m just thrilled to settle this matter behind me,” Hogues said when given the chance to speak during his sentencing.