Judge denies bond reduction for 70-year-old Vidalia woman in human trafficking case

Published 11:25 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — Seventh Judicial District Court of Concordia Parish Judge John Reeves denied a bond reduction request Wednesday for a 70-year-old Vidalia woman still incarcerated as proceedings in a Miss-Lou human trafficking case continue.

Lester Jeanette Ratcliff’s attorney Alexandra Letard filed a motion for a bond reduction for Ratcliff on March 15, but a hearing on the motion was postponed until Reeves returned from leave to the bench on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, Ratcliff had been incarcerated 177 days total since her arrest in November 2022 during an investigation of a human trafficking network in Adams County and Concordia Parish which involves multiple defendants.

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Her bond is set at $155,000, jail records show.

Ratcliff is charged with possession of fewer than two grams of a schedule II controlled substance, human trafficking for the purpose of engaging in commercial sexual activity, cruelty to juveniles and sexual battery.

The judge’s decision to deny the bond came after a long off-record conversation at the bench between Letard, Division B First Assistant District Attorney Joseph Boothe and Reeves.

“At this time, I’m going to deny this request for bond reduction,” Reeves said. “I think we may have a potential resolution at our next meeting.”

“We’ll see,” Boothe replied.

On March 15, George Rice, 48, another arrested in a human trafficking case, was sentenced to 18 months in the Louisiana Department of Corrections with credit for time served after he pleaded guilty to cruelty to juveniles.

Rice had been previously charged with three felonies that included human trafficking for the purpose of engaging in commercial sexual activity and sexual battery in addition to cruelty to juveniles. However, Rice pleaded guilty only to the cruelty to juveniles charge.

Boothe said the state is still reviewing the case that involves multiple defendants and that the other charges have not been dismissed.

The state may still come back and prosecute the charges “if we find that he was involved,” he said.

Shelton Rice, 50, Eddie Holloway, 38, and Quentin Maurice Smith, 45, — who was the first arrested for human trafficking last year — each have status hearings scheduled for 9 a.m. on April 12. Smith faces charges of human trafficking of children for sexual purposes, second-degree rape, cruelty to juveniles and sexual battery. Holloway also faces three felony charges that include human trafficking for the purpose of engaging in commercial sexual activity, cruelty to juveniles and second-degree rape. Shelton Rice faces charges of cruelty to juveniles and trafficking of children for sexual purposes as a parent or guardian.

Others arrested in the case include Jessica Robinson, 36, and Jerry Brownell, 42. Their court status was not immediately available for this report.

In October 2022, CPSO began investigating reports of an adult — later identified as Smith — who had possibly engaged in illegal activity with multiple minors over a period of time, according to news reports.

The initial investigation revealed evidence of juveniles being supplied with narcotic substances such as methamphetamine and fentanyl and being transported to locations in both Concordia Parish and Adams County, where adults engaged in sexual activity with them.

As the investigation progressed, more suspects were identified through interviews and digital evidence connecting numerous individuals involved in the activity.

Investigators believe minors in the custody of adults were introduced to someone selling narcotics by their guardians and were provided with narcotics by both those who were illegally selling the drugs and the guardians, who engaged in the use with them.

As a result, the minors were subjected to sexual abuse by adults while under the influence of substances and the adults with custody of the minors did nothing to prevent it.

They instead filmed it.

Evidence was also obtained that revealed someone offering another the opportunity to engage in sex with a sleeping minor in return for methamphetamine. Numerous adult victims were also identified that were exploited for sexual purposes in return for narcotics, one of which attempted numerous times to escape over the course of several years.

All persons arrested are presumed innocent until proven guilty.