The Dallas Morning News
He “eagerly” showed up to a Dallas warehouse, ready to spend weeks torturing a reluctant captive into compliance for a pimp.
In his suitcase were the tools of the trade: whips, chains and sexual devices. The “pimp,” however, who placed the online advertisement for someone to “break” his sex slave so he could sell her, turned out to be a federal agent working a sting operation. And now Billie Joe Sanford, 39, will spend the next decade behind bars for his crime.
U.S. District Judge Ada Brown on Thursday gave Sanford almost the top end of the sentencing guideline range for the charge he pleaded guilty to last year, attempted kidnapping. The plea bargain he agreed to called for no fewer than 10 years in prison. The maximum punishment for the offense was 20 years.
Sanford, a U.S. Army veteran and convicted felon who lived about an hour southeast of Dallas, was initially charged with attempting to aid and abet sex trafficking. Brown said her sentence was adequate given the “seriousness” of the offense, which included torture, sadism and stark cruelty.
Agents say Sanford detailed how he would torture the woman, saying he would keep her in a cage with her hands and feet “restrained.” He would place her on a starvation diet and put “black out contacts” in her eyes to confuse her so “she will not even know when time ends or begins.”
He asked about the availability of electrical outlets so he could employ “shock therapy,” a federal criminal complaint says. If she disobeyed, he would blast heavy metal music in her ears.
Sanford, who was on parole for a previous offense at the time, “described a series of flogs and whips made of leather, chain and plastic.” He mentioned “paddles lined with thumbtacks or needles.”
The unique Homeland Security Investigations sting operation has yielded at least two other arrests under similar circumstances. Those cases are pending.
Brown said she read the presentence report that contained graphic descriptions of the offense.
Because of those lurid details, Sanford asked his mother and teenage son not to attend Thursday’s sentencing hearing even though they still support him, said his attorney, John Nicholson.
“He’s ashamed of what he did” and didn’t want them to have to “sit through this,” Nicholson said.
Sanford’s statement to Brown prior to her ruling was brief. “I’m sorry for what I did,” he said, adding that he looks forward to spending time with his son when he gets out. Sanford, who has a handful of fraud and theft convictions, has been in custody since his November 2020 arrest.
Nicholson told the judge that 10 years would actually be “more punitive” for his client than others given Sanford’s various health problems that include seizures, food allergies, bipolar disorder, PTSD and depression.
Sanford recognizes the “terrible thing he agreed to do,” Nicholson said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Briggs said Sanford’s medical conditions did not stop him from committing a “harrowing” offense. The defendant, he said, bragged about his abilities to “best break this victim.” Sanford’s health problems, he said, did not diminish the “horrific nature” of his crime.
Briggs called it “really nasty conduct.” He also told the judge about a woman who was living with Sanford in his trailer who told agents he subjected her to “heinous sexual abuse.”
That uncharged conduct was relevant and should be considered, Briggs said, because it’s “on brand for what Sanford was going to do with this victim.”
“We have what appears to be a live victim,” Briggs said.
Nicholson, however, urged Brown “not to be sidetracked” by the woman’s allegations, some of which he said were found to be untrue. The alleged victim was not in court and could not be cross-examined to determine her credibility, he said.
When can I start?
The investigation began when the ad was placed on the unnamed website in October 2020.
It said: “Three months and she won’t break. Don’t want to lose my investment but at this point I’m done. Dominance is not my thing. … If you break her I will buy her back.”
With the username “MasterBill75751,” Sanford responded, asking if she still needed breaking, the complaint says.
“I am willing to help break her into a proper slave,” he reportedly said. “When are you wanting to start?”
Sanford and the undercover agent communicated for about a month in late 2020, using a messaging app, text messages and an in-person meeting, court records show.
The agent, posing as the head of a human-trafficking organization, told Sanford he purchased the victim from a different trafficker and was going to “make a fortune” selling her to clients, the complaint says.
Sanford told the undercover agent that he’d done similar work for sex traffickers in other states.
“I need a big enough space to train her in complete privacy,” says one of his alleged texts. “Prefer something where there are not neighbors close by. … I need to know when and where she will be kept so I can start ASAP.”
For $5,000 per week, Sanford said, he could break the victim if allowed to work uninterrupted in an isolated location, authorities say. He asked if there were any spots on her body the trafficker didn’t want “marked.” He also said he guaranteed his work and had “never failed to break a woman to know what her purpose is.”
Sanford reassured the agent that while his torture weapons would cut the victim, they would not cause permanent scarring that “could affect her later sale.” He also said he knew from his training as a certified nursing assistant where the body’s most sensitive areas are and where “the worst nerve endings are to mess with,” according to the complaint.
Even if the victim did manage to reach police, it would be useless because she “won’t know how long she has been there. She won’t know what day it is,” Sanford said.