Federal prosecutors have accused a Detroit man of producing and distributing child pornography and running a sex trafficking operation involving four women, including one victim authorities say they found chained inside a home.
Ryon L. Travis, 32, a self-proclaimed sovereign citizen, pleaded not guilty Monday at his arraignment in U.S. District Court and was returned to jail.
According to court records, the case began as a fraud and identity theft investigation by West Bloomfield police.
Officers executing a search warrant March 2 at Travis’ home seized two cellphones, which three women in the house said belonged to Travis, court records say. The phones contained images of child pornography, prosecutors allege.
Authorities returned to the home later that month and found a 25-year-old woman chained by a padlock around her neck to a pole, the records say.
The woman said she had lived with Travis and three other women for two years, and that she was chained up for two weeks because she tried to escape, according to court documents. She told authorities that when Travis caught her, he beat her and held her in bondage.
According to the documents, the woman said Travis posted online ads advertising he had four women available for paid sex acts. The woman also said Travis took her each month to the bank when her $700 Social Security disability check came in, made her cash it and then took away the money.
At a March 23 detention hearing, the Detroit Free Press reported, Travis said: “I choose not to do business with this court. I ask that this case be dismissed.”
NBC affiliate WDIV reported that one of Travis’s “wives” said he considers himself a “sovereign citizen.”
Sovereign citizens are a loose network of individuals in the U.S. that believe federal, state and local governments operate illegally according to the FBI. While many simply seem like nonviolent lunatics, several are prone to violence, including attacks on law enforcement. Between 2000 and 2011, lone-offender sovereign-citizen extremists have killed six law enforcement officers, according to the FBI who considers them extremists “comprising a domestic terrorist movement.”
“All laws are commercial in nature, and I’m a natural-born human American man,” Travis said during the hearing. “So since all laws are commercial in nature and I choose not to do business with this court, I ask that this case be dismissed.”
A judge denied his request and ordered him detained until trial, as prosecutors had requested.
Travis’ court-appointed lawyer, Stacey Studnicki, said she understood the seriousness of the charges but had urged the judge to be “skeptical” in accepting the words of accusers and asked that the judge consider letting Travis live with his wife.
Travis is charged with sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and producing, possessing and transporting child pornography.
LEO Affairs and the Associated Press contributed to this report.