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One of Raymond Jeffries’ victims was a teenage heroin user when she met him. She was paraded on the streets of Boston and forced to prostitute herself to feed her addiction, she said in federal court Thursday. Another victim said she was just 17 when Jeffries forced her into prostitution.

“I want you to know how this messed with my life, messed my life up,” yet another of Jeffries’ victims told US District Judge Denise Casper Thursday, struggling to hold back tears while speaking in a packed courtroom. “I was so afraid of this man.”

In letters and impassioned pleas Thursday, several of Jeffries’ victims confronted him with accounts of how he preyed on them when they were vulnerable, gave them a false sense of security, and forced them to sell themselves in hotels in Boston, Georgia, and California.

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Jeffries, 28, was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison Thursday for running a sprawling sex trafficking ring, a sentence Casper said would serve as just punishment and a deterrent to those considering similar crimes. She also ordered Jeffries to undergo sex offender counseling.

“The labels of these crimes do not describe the true nature of the harm you placed on these victims,” Casper told him. “You preyed upon these women, young women – some even girls.”

The sentence Thursday capped an investigation into the biggest and most violent sex trafficking ring the US attorney’s office in Boston has targeted in the last decade, part of a nationwide push to investigate sex trafficking crimes in the federal court system, where punishments are harsher.

“Law enforcement has just dealt a serious blow to those who think they can sell a person in Boston for commercial gain,” said Matthew Etre, special agent in charge of the Boston office of Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of the US Department of Homeland Security. He said law enforcement “will continue to aggressively pursue criminals who engage in sexual slavery at the cost of the victim’s lives.”

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In all, eight people were charged in four indictments that described the prostitution of at least 20 women, including teenagers and young mothers.

And at the helm of the ring was Jeffries, a Boston native and wannabe rapper who glamorized his lifestyle in rap songs and on his social media accounts with pictures of cash and jewelry. Jeffries pleaded guilty to charges that he threatened the women and ordered a hit on a partner he thought had been cooperating with authorities. The intended target survived.

One of Jeffries codefendants is scheduled to go to trial in that shooting next week.

Jeffries faced life in prison under sentencing guidelines, but he pleaded guilty under an agreement that he serve a sentence of 25 to 30 years in prison.

At Thursday’s hearing, a Northeastern University professor described the world of sex trafficking rings, in which pimps prey upon vulnerable women and “groom” them to earn their trust. They then convince the women to sell themselves, and threaten them if they fail to obey.

“He will be the one to protect her, and law enforcement will not,” said the professor, Amy Farrell, a former assistant director at the Institute on Race and Justice.

Assistant US Attorney Amy Burkart told Casper that Jeffries enticed women to work as prostitutes in the same way: They were heroin addicts, or abused alcohol, and had histories of abuse.

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“Every single woman had problems in their lives,” she said. “That’s why they were attractive to Raymond Jeffries. That’s why they were brought into his web.”

His lawyer, Keith Halpern, sought to distance Jeffries from other convicted sex traffickers saying his crimes were not as severe because he targeted older women, and did not beat them. He also sought to generate sympathy for his client, saying Jeffries was raised by a mother who was addicted to crack cocaine and surrounded herself with pimps.

Casper cut Halpern off. In his remarks, Jeffries sought to explain his actions.

“I grew up in a harsh environment,” he pleaded, fidgeting with his prison garb. “I grew up thinking I was going to be a pimp, I was going to be a drug dealer. I grew up in an environment where turning 21 was a long-term goal.”

But, he added: “I’m not the monster I’m portrayed to be. . . . I know that it was wrong, and if I could go back and change it, I know I would. I know I can’t.”

Casper acknowledged his tough upbringing — he has been shot twice, and was first arrested at 12 years old — but added, “sadly, there are no good beginnings here, and sadly there are no good endings here either.”


Milton Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia