Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr accepted the inaugural Wellspring Living Courage Award on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2023, at the annual Wellspring Living Gala presented by Delta Air Lines and UPS. This award recognizes those who have made impactful contributions to the fight for justice for sex trafficking victims. In his remarks, Carr highlighted the work of his office’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, which rescued and assisted 116 victims last year alone. This Unit is led by Senior Assistant Attorney General Hannah Palmquist, who joined Carr in accepting the award alongside Assistant Attorneys General Chris Keegan and Kaitlyn Fain Salinas.
“Our Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit has successfully located and rescued missing children while identifying and prosecuting those who bought and sold them for sex,” said Carr. “We have watched as victims find the strength to testify in court while facing their traffickers and seeing justice realized often for the first time. We’re grateful for our partnership with Wellspring Living, and we dedicate this award to all survivors whose courage serves as our greatest inspiration as we work to recover those who have not yet been found.”
The Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit led and assisted 33 case investigations last year and has already obtained 26 new convictions in 2023. This Unit has 37 defendants who are currently under indictment for sex or labor trafficking, with some facing charges in multiple jurisdictions around the state.
“Wellspring Living is honored to celebrate the tireless work and dedication led by Attorney General Chris Carr and his team,” said Christian Murphy, Deputy Director of Wellspring Living. “Their steadfast leadership demonstrates a powerful commitment to end human trafficking across our state and serves as a powerful model across the country. Thank you, Attorney General Carr, for helping bring justice to the light and protecting survivors through prosecuting the buyers and sellers in our area.”
Under the theme, “Courage,” this year’s Wellspring Living Gala celebrated the strength, resilience and perseverance of sex trafficking survivors and their advocates.
“From the very beginning of our efforts to end human trafficking in our state, Attorney General Chris Carr has been one of the closest partners and strongest champions in this fight,” said First Lady Marty Kemp. “He has been a valued member of the GRACE Commission, helped our legislative measures make it across the finish line, and been on the frontlines prosecuting traffickers and buyers while assisting survivors. Through the first-of-its-kind Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Attorney General Carr and his team have brought justice for dozens of victims. I’m proud to have such a strong fighter stand with us against this evil industry, and proud to congratulate him on this award.”
Created in 2019, with the support of Governor Brian Kemp, First Lady Marty Kemp and leaders in the Georgia General Assembly, the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit works with local, state, and federal law enforcement to rescue victims and prosecute buyers and sellers alike.
“The successful prosecution of human trafficking requires both an unwavering commitment from organizational leadership and an experienced team of professionals who are dedicated to serving some of our most vulnerable community members,” said Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit District Attorney Susan Treadaway. “Attorney General Chris Carr, through his creation of the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, has demonstrated this commitment to end human trafficking in the State of Georgia, and sets the example for best practices amongst prosecution partners to ensure that every human trafficker is brought to justice. We are stronger together, and I am grateful for the partnership we have with the Attorney General’s Office in our fight to end human trafficking.”
Recent case highlights from the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit are included below.
In July 2023, Dionte Johnson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the trafficking of an underage female. Over the course of a larger investigation, Analyst Umniah Al Bayati with the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit found evidence to suggest that a hotel clerk had assisted in the trafficking of this juvenile victim. After further analysis by its Human Exploitation and Trafficking (HEAT) Unit, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) arrested and charged Johnson, who had previously been employed as a clerk at the Economy Hotel in Fulton County. In this role, Johnson provided the rooms in which the trafficking occurred. He also solicited the underage victim for sex.
In May 2023, Mark Thomas was convicted of trafficking an underage female in Fulton and Cherokee counties. He received two life sentences to be served concurrently. This case stems from a multi-county investigation launched by the GBI's HEAT Unit and Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta Field Office in partnership with the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office, the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s SWAT Team. In all, Thomas is one of six defendants to be convicted and sentenced to prison for the trafficking of this juvenile victim.
In March 2023, Theodore Browne, Jr. was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison for trafficking a 15-year-old female in Clayton County. This case had previously been closed by local jurisdictions but was re-opened by Human Trafficking Chief Investigator Bryan Kimbell upon the creation of the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit in 2019. With the conviction and sentencing of Browne, a total of four defendants – two sellers and two buyers – are now behind bars for their involvement in the trafficking of this juvenile victim.