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Boston man sentenced to 20 years for sex trafficking

A Boston man with a long criminal history was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in federal prison for sex trafficking, after he was convicted of transporting a teenage girl to New York and New Jersey and selling sex with the girl.

“This defendant has a history that goes back to age 12 with the criminal justice system,” US District Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. said, before sentencing Michael Gemma, 31.

The father of three stood hunched over, his hands on the table in front of him, as O’Toole announced the sentence.

Genna’s victim, who was 16 at the time of the crimes in 2011, did not address O’Toole but sent him a letter that the judge read to himself before handing out the sentence. The victim attended Thursday’s hearing but left before it ended.

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Gemma had faced a minimum of 15 years on a charge of sex trafficking, but because of his criminal history, he faced nearly 22 years, according to sentencing guidelines.

Prosecutors had also sought to have Gemma sentenced as a career criminal, which would have allowed the judge to sentence Gemma to life in prison. But Gemma’s defense lawyers successfully sought dismissals of two drug-related convictions that were tied to Annie Dookhan, a former drug lab chemist who tampered with evidence. The convictions no longer count toward Gemma’s criminal history.

O’Toole said he was still concerned with Gemma’s past crimes, however, and said lawyers could not “understate the criminal history.”

In Gemma’s case, a State Police trooper stopped him on the highway in September 2011 for speeding. The teenage victim was in the car, with no identification.

The girl initially told the trooper that she was fine, but later told police that Gemma had forced her into prostitution. Assistant US Attorney Leah B. Foley argued Thursday that the victim only felt comfortable telling her story once she was assured she was safe.

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The victim testified in May that Gemma and an accomplice took photos of her in lingerie, which they posted online. The photos were used in ads that offered sex with the victim for a fee, and Gemma would transport the girl across state lines.

“Michael Gemma prostituted me, I don’t want to do it,” she said, according to Foley, who added, “He never showed respect to the victim.”

The prosecutor also took issue with the defense team’s characterization of the victim as a runaway who would have engaged in prostitution on her own, or Gemma’s contention that “it has nothing to do with him, it’s all her.”

“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Foley said.

Prosecutors also sought $5,600 in restitution for the victim, saying it was the money that Gemma collected from clients. O’Toole denied the request, but agreed to fine Gemma that same amount.

Gemma’s sentencing is an example of the increasing use of the federal court system — where punishments are more severe — to prosecute sex-related crimes.

Also Thursday, a convicted sex offender was sentenced to 20 years in state prison on new charges of producing child pornography. George Shipps, 33, of Chelsea, had been convicted in state court in 2006 of possessing child pornography, was labeled a Level II Sex Offender, and had been on probation when he committed the new crimes. Shipps took sexually explicit photos of three children, ages 6, 5, and 2. He also sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl, and was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.

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Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.