A Level 3 sex offender convicted more than 30 years ago of raping two women at the Harvard Business School and a third in Jamaica Plain was charged Wednesday with human trafficking and running a prostitution ring in Greater Boston, after an investigation launched in January.
The investigation was sparked by comments made by a woman allegedly drawn into prostitution by Michael Leoney, 49. Boston police pulled Leoney over in Roxbury Jan. 12 for a routine traffic stop and noticed that a woman in the passenger’s seat was unusually nervous.
Authorities later interviewed her, and she told them that Leoney had drawn her into prostitution, officials said. “He threatened them with physical force,” Deb Bercovitch, assistant attorney general, said at Leoney’s arraignment in Dorchester District Court Wednesday. During the proceeding, Leoney hid behind a door in a hallway leading into the courtroom.
Leoney’s lawyer, Kim Giampietro, entered a not-guilty plea on her client’s behalf. Leoney was ordered held on $25,000, charged with trafficking of persons for sexual servitude and deriving support from a prostitute.
The witness said Leoney recruited her, bought her clothes, then took pictures of her and posted them on websites that offer sex for a fee, according to prosecutors. Leoney kept the women at his Washington Street address and regularly drove them to hotels or the johns’ residences, authorities said. Leoney took all the money the women made from the illegal encounters and threatened to beat them if they withheld any money or left, Bercovitch said.
Investigators performed surveillance of Leoney’s house and found evidence consistent with the alleged criminal enterprise, Bercovitch said.
It was unclear Wednesday how many women Leoney allegedly subjugated or whether he had accomplices. Authorities would not disclose whether any of the alleged prostitutes were arrested. Leoney has been described by authorities as the mastermind.
Police interviewed victims, a police report said. Those women told authorities that Leoney, who went by the nickname Pure, gave them cellphones to arrange meetings with johns, the report stated.
Giampietro said there was no mention in the police report of any money being found that was derived from prostitution, that the case hinges on “mystery witnesses,” and that there are no statements of physical abuse by the alleged victims.
Leoney’s younger sister, Ramone Burton, said after the arraignment that her brother is innocent, a “good person and productive member of the community.”
“These allegations, I don’t know where they are coming from, these women,” she said. “. . . It could be a jealous girlfriend.”
Giampietro said Leoney has a GED and is a few courses from an associate’s degree in liberal arts. She said he has worked for many years as a barber but was recently injured in a car accident and is unable to work.
Attorney General Martha Coakley said Leoney’s arrest “is part of our ongoing commitment to target human traffickers who exploit and abuse others for their own profit.”
“We allege that this individual arranged for multiple women to provide sexual services and kept the profit from those arrangements,” she said.
According to the Sex Offender Registry Board, Leoney was classified as a Level 3 sex offender based on three convictions in 1981 for two counts of aggravated rape and one count of rape. The convictions stemmed from separate attacks in 1980.
The Globe reported in 1980 that Leoney and an accomplice entered a Harvard Business School dormitory in Allston and robbed two women and a man at knifepoint. Leoney then raped the women, authorities said at the time.
Separately, Leoney pulled a knife on a woman outside her apartment house on South Huntington Avenue in Jamaica Plain that same year and dragged her into an alley, where he robbed and raped her.
At the time of the crimes, Leoney was 17 years old. He was convicted of both crimes a year later, in 1981.
Leoney served a 9-year sentence on a federal firearms conviction. It was unclear how much time he served on the other two convictions.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said the joint investigation “illustrates that working with our law enforcement partners we will be relentless in our pursuit to bring these criminals to justice.”
Leoney was arrested Tuesday after authorities executed search warrants on his car and Washington Street home.
The case against Leoney is the third time Coakley’s office has prosecuted someone for human trafficking since new laws took effect Feb. 19.
In March, four people were charged with allegedly running a sophisticated human trafficking ring in the Boston area. In October, three operators of so-called massage parlors in Wellesley and Revere were charged under the new law.