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Durr to stay in jail: Judge says state has enough evidence for sex-trafficking case

BISMARCK — A Wisconsin man charged with forcibly bringing women to North Dakota to work as prostitutes will stay in jail.

Levell Durr, 31, currently faces a federal charge of coercion and enticement, but U.S. Attorney for North Dakota Tim Purdon said earlier this week more charges are possible as the investigation continues. A magistrate judge ruled Thursday the government had enough evidence for the case to proceed and that he is a flight risk. The federal government now will present the case to a grand jury to see if an indictment is returned.

A woman told authorities that Durr held her and two others against their will, forcing them to have sex for money and keeping them in line with physical force and by making them dependent on drugs.

The woman said she witnessed Durr confine another girl in a dog kennel for several days after breaking one of his “rules,” FBI Special Agent Bruce Bennett told the court via teleconference Thursday. The woman interviewed and another woman could make $15,000 a week, she told investigators.

The alleged victims were required to take heroin every morning, Bennett wrote in an affidavit, which he noted is a known method for controlling victims of sex trafficking. Durr also required the women kiss him on the hand after giving him money made from prostitution, and they couldn’t look others in the eye, Bennett testified.

The woman interviewed by authorities had worked previously in Minot as a prostitute for Durr, Bennett said. She returned home and entered rehab after she was beaten up in an incident in Minot. She then turned to Durr and “he basically told her, ‘Get back to work,’” Bennett testified.

But a few weeks later, she reached out to Durr from rehab in Chicago. He brought her back to North Dakota, and she said she was drugged and didn’t remember the drive.

“She smoked something and that was pretty much the last thing she remembered,” Bennett said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme asked Bennett exactly how Durr forced the women into prostitution. Bennett said it was a mix of drugs and emotional dependency. Durr allegedly would also use physical force if they didn’t stay completely in his control, and limited their contact with others and access to money to prevent them from running away, Bennett said.

The women would allegedly only get enough money to get food from a vending machine, and for anything else Durr thought they needed, like makeup. Durr would go with the girl to buy it for them, Bennett said.

The woman also told investigators about a 15-year-old Durr had in his control. It’s still unknown if the younger girl existed or where she is. Investigators had the North Dakota Highway Patrol perform a safety check on Durr’s car near Jamestown to make sure the younger girl wasn’t with him; he was only with an older woman. That woman is also an alleged victim, but did not give police much information.

Defense attorney Heather McCord Mitchell pointed out this third woman’s failure to plead for help when interviewed by law enforcement as a hole in the state’s case. Highway Patrol also witnessed the woman go into a convenience store alone and return to Durr’s car after — “so it doesn’t sound like she was under duress,” Mitchell said.

The fact the 15-year-old hasn’t been found also calls into question the veracity of the first alleged victim’s statements, Mitchell said.

Durr has learning disabilities, his mom told Mitchell, and an eighth-grade education.

“Yet they claim he is somehow the criminal mastermind of all these victims,” Mitchell said.

But federal Magistrate Judge Charles Miller said the government presented more than enough evidence to prove probable cause, and found Durr, with no community ties and a lengthy criminal history, is a flight risk.

His next court hearing has not been yet scheduled.

Investigators first caught on to Durr after tips from law enforcement in Wisconsin and Chicago indicated he was taking women against their will to the “fracking areas” of North Dakota for prostitution. Bismarck police arrested him at a hotel Friday afternoon on a federal warrant.