After years on the run, GirlsDoPorn boss faces 'beginning of the end' in San Diego

FBI released new poster Wednesday after announcing GirlsDoPorn boss Michael Pratt was added to "10 Most Wanted Fugitive" list
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It was a moment hundreds of women had been waiting for — and one many feared would never come.

Five years after he fled the country and minutes before his former right-hand man was sentenced in federal court, authorities announced that the alleged mastermind behind the GirlsDoPorn sex-trafficking ring had touched down in San Diego in federal custody.

Michael James Pratt disappeared in the summer of 2019, just before he was indicted on federal conspiracy and sex trafficking charges stemming from what prosecutors said was a decade-long scheme to con hundreds of teens and young women into appearing in adult videos for the website he owned.

Pratt was on the lam for three years and had been listed among the FBI's most-wanted fugitives by the time he was arrested in Spain in December 2022. Five of those indicted alongside him have pleaded guilty to their crimes, each fingering Pratt as the ringleader. The majority of his co-conspirators have started their sentences in prison.

On March 19, it was cameraman Matthew Isaac Wolfe's turn. Dozens of victims had gathered at San Diego's James M. Carter and Judith N. Keep Courthouse to speak at the sentencing hearing when they were told that Pratt was in federal custody.

"We were all in the U.S. attorney's office," said Brian Holm, longtime civil attorney for the victims. "Everybody burst out in a loud cheer. They’d been waiting for the day."

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For many, the porn boss' extradition marks "the beginning of the end" of the years-long ordeal, said Holm's colleague John O'Brien.

"The clients were just clapping, overjoyed, relieved," O'Brien said. "There was an overwhelming sense of closure."

Although Pratt is now back on U.S. soil, his case is yet to be resolved.

Other co-defendants have struck plea deals, but Pratt — who faces decades in federal prison if convicted — could choose to take the case to trial after pleading not guilty. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

According to federal indictments and extensive victim testimony, the site's eponymous "girls" — most of whom had barely graduated high school when they were brought to San Diego to film — were lured off Craigslist and through social media with promises of well-paid modeling gigs, only to be told at the last minute that they were expected to shoot explicit sex scenes instead.

"I can remember being so worried to tell him that I was just 17," a woman identified as "Victim K" told the court during a hearing for the ring's main performer, Ruben Andre Garcia, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit sex trafficking in 2020 and was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2021. "But he was not mad or concerned. Instead he was excited and was eager to start."

"Garcia and Pratt bought me a birthday cake to include in the filming process so he could let everyone know that I had just turned 18," she said.

After arriving in San Diego, the women have said they were typically hustled into cramped hotel rooms with blocked exits, cajoled into signing thick contracts they were not allowed to read, and assured repeatedly that the videos would only appear on DVD in foreign countries, and would never be published to the internet or released in the United States.

Many said they were pressured into performing sex acts they'd previously refused to do. Some said they were told they would not be allowed to leave, or their flights home would be canceled, if they did not complete filming.

Those who spoke at Garcia's sentencing told harrowing stories of assault, coercion and brutality during the hours-long shoots, when many wept, bled, vomited, cried out in pain or begged for the filming to stop — scenes that were carefully edited from the final video.

"I asked multiple times to stop," said Victim E. "I had burst blood-vessels in my eyes because of the pain that I was in."

Weeks after they returned home, the videos were released in full on Pratt's subscription site, and as clips on PornHub and other popular free porn platforms.

At the same time, Pratt and his team would dox the women on another site he controlled, releasing their names, email, home address and even biometric details including height and weight to hordes of trolls who linked it on 4chan and similar forums — efforts attorneys say were intended both to silence the victims and to drive traffic to the subscription site.

"My first time seeing pornography was a video of myself, my own body, which was sent to me hundreds of times a day by friends, family, strangers," said Victim H. "I lived in constant fear from ... thousands of men who said they will find me, rape me, and kill me in my own home."

Others detailed how they had lost jobs, been evicted, and were estranged from friends and family. Many dropped out of school. Some attempted suicide. Those who joined the civil lawsuit in 2016 saw new waves of attacks. That suit caught the attention of prosecutors when it went to trial in 2019, touching off the criminal investigation.

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"It was eye-opening to me how pervasive and obsessive some of these people are," said Holm, the victims' attorney. "I get harassed just for representing them."

Pratt is charged with multiple counts of conspiracy and sex trafficking, as well as one count of producing child pornography in connection with the scheme, from which he and his team made millions, court records show.

Holm said a team of amateur sleuths helped authorities trace the fugitive to a mailing address in Barcelona.

"We got tired of waiting for him to be found," the lawyer said.

Holm said he thinks the porn boss is unlikely to plead guilty.

"If I were him I would roll the dice for one crazy juror," he said.

He and others worry that women who were disowned and thrown out by their own parents and siblings might fare little better with a jury of strangers.

"You can always just hope to get some victim-blaming crazy person on the jury who holds out," he said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.