A Bountiful man was charged Thursday with 13 felonies and two misdemeanors accusing him of trafficking women and drugs in the Salt Lake Valley. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)
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SALT LAKE CITY — A Bountiful man who police believe was trafficking women and drugs in the Salt Lake Valley now faces a long list of criminal charges.
Michael Joe Ricks, 49, was charged Thursday 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.
Investigators believe Ricks would recruit women already working in the commercial sex industry, and then manipulate and control them once they began working for him, according to charging documents. He also is accused of distributing cocaine, Suboxone, marijuana and prescription drugs, and providing heroin to the women working for him.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office noted when Ricks was arrested on Tuesday that he is someone neighbors would likely never suspect of being involved in drug distribution and human trafficking. Investigators served four search warrants on Tuesday prior to his arrest: two on apartments Ricks leases in Salt Lake County allegedly for the women engaging in prostitution, at his house in Bountiful, and at a storage unit.
“Agents recovered narcotics, a sex toy, and an LDS temple recommend card from Ricks and his vehicle,” according to charging documents. “Ricks has no employment history for the previous 10+ years, but owns a home on the east bench in Bountiful.”
Ricks’ wife told investigators she believed her husband was earning an income by managing Airbnb locations, the charges state.
The investigation began in March when one of Ricks’ alleged victims contacted police. Charging documents filed Thursday list four victims, but also note that “throughout the course of the investigation, agents were able to identify 13 individuals believed to be victims of Ricks and a total of 26 commercial sex workers connected to Ricks.”
Prosecutors believe that Ricks “has been engaging in a pattern of violent and exploitative behavior for over five years. The witnesses in this case have been controlled by (Ricks) through coercion, drugs and threats,” the charges allege.
According to one woman, Ricks would arrange “dates” for her using adult websites and provide the woman with a place to meet her clients as well as food and transportation, the charges state. In return, the woman was expected to give Ricks 30% of all profits she made, according to investigators. The woman told police Ricks would threaten her to perform sex acts “even while sick or not wanting to.”
While serving search warrants on the apartments, investigators “discovered video cameras in multiple locations within the apartments” that Ricks used to keep track of the women working for him, according to the charges.
A second woman told investigators that Ricks “kept a stockpile of drugs for the women he managed so they wouldn’t go anywhere else to find drugs,” the court documents say.
Ricks was also charged Thursday with exploiting prostitution and three counts of drug possession with intent to distribute, third-degree felonies; and two counts of aiding prostitution, a class A misdemeanor.
Prosecutors have requested Ricks be held in the Salt Lake County Jail pending trial, noting that “there are no conditions” under which he can be “safely managed” if he is released.