Baltimore, Maryland - Joshua Lankford, aka “20-20,” aka “Light Bright,” aka “Yellow,” 33, of Manchester, Maryland, pleaded guilty Wednesday to kidnapping in relation to a sex trafficking conspiracy.

According to his guilty plea, from Oct. 25, 2018, to Oct. 30, 2018, Lankford led and organized a conspiracy to commit sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and to commit kidnapping. The evidence indicated that Lankford recruited the victim, a young adult woman, to engage in prostitution under fraudulent pretenses. Lanford knew that the victim was addicted to heroin and withheld drugs from her when she did make enough money for him engaging in commercial sex. When the victim attempted to escape, Lankford and his three co-defendants drove the victim to a rural road on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where they beat, whipped and choked her with a belt, and then drove her to a hotel in Delaware to engage in prostitution. All of Lankford’s co-defendants have already pleaded guilty for their participation in this crime. 

“Sex trafficking is a horrific crime that deprives some of the most vulnerable people in our society of their freedom and dignity,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Justice Department’s the Civil Rights Division. “This defendant preyed on a vulnerable young woman and cruelly exploited her for his profit. The Civil Rights Division will continue its vigorous enforcement of our human trafficking laws to hold perpetrators accountable and to seek justice for their victims.”

“This case is a prime example of the horrendous realities surrounding human trafficking and why our office works fiercely to combat it,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland. “Lankford took advantage of an at-risk woman’s drug addiction and her desire to be reunited with her son to lure her into a dehumanizing sex trafficking trap. He then intended to kill her to undermine the federal prosecution of his crimes at trial. Our office remains dedicated to the prosecution of sex traffickers, and most importantly, to the protection of sex trafficking survivors within our cases.”

“Joshua Lankford’s crimes are nothing short of horrific; he kidnapped and victimized a vulnerable woman then plotted to kill her in order to save himself,” said Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore. “Fortunately, he will now face the consequences of his actions. HSI Baltimore is proud to have partnered with the Maryland State Police, the Delaware State Police and the Federalsburg Police Department to bring Lankford to justice. HSI remains committed to investigating human trafficking organizations as they prey upon the most vulnerable populations in our communities.”

Lankford was arrested two days later and informed officers that he deleted the contents of his cell phone in anticipation of his apprehension. While incarcerated, Lankford told a co-conspirator that he intended to kill the victim to prevent her from testifying against them at trial.

Lankford and the government have agreed that, if the court accepts the plea agreement, Lankford will be sentenced to 17 years in federal prison. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for April 29 at 9:30 a.m.

Report suspected instances of human trafficking and sex trafficking to HSI's tip line at 866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423) or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

The guilty plea was announced by Assistant Attorney General Clarke; U.S. Attorney Barron; Special Agent in Charge Mancuso of HSI Baltimore; Colonel Woodrow W. Jones III, Superintendent of the Maryland State Police; Chief Michael McDermott of the Federalsburg Police Department; and Colonel Melissa Zebley of the Delaware State Police Department.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Setzer of the District of Maryland and Trial Attorney Leah L. Branch of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit.