Human trafficking trial begins in Florence

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Ala. - After three days of jury selection, the human trafficking trial of Chip Dillard and Timothy Staggs got underway Thursday.

The Alabama Attorney General's Office was quite frank in the opening statement to jurors when they said power and control were used on vulnerable women in difficult situations.

Prosecutors say Dillard worked with Staggs to take advantage of females in the Lauderdale County Detention Center. Once they were able to get them out of jail, prosecutors have said the females would be forced into sexual servitude for payback.

In 2010, prosecutors said Timothy Staggs approached his first victim, who was working at a restaurant. Jurors were told Staggs offered the 23-year-old woman money and drugs in exchange for sex. They went on to explain that Staggs would use violence to intimidate a growing list of victims.

As prosecutors wrapped up, they told jurors during the trial they would hear jail phone calls from the victims that would show what Staggs and Dillard demanded in exchange for help.

Chip Dillard's attorney told jurors that Staggs paid him for legal advice and work, and that Dillard was just doing his job when helping his client. The defense attorney said the victims were not sex slaves; they were "sugar babies."

Staggs' attorney said prostitution was taking place, not human trafficking, and that the women in the case originated the scheme to get out of jail.

After opening statements, prosecutors called their first witness: the first woman who Staggs approached in 2010. She testified that Staggs would pay her for sex by giving her drugs and money, then threatened her if she refused to continue.

Almost 50 witnesses have been summoned for the trial, which could last as long as three weeks.

Dillard has remained behind bars since his indictment in 2016. Staggs was temporarily free on bond, but it was revoked after he was arrested again on charges that he tried to solicit another woman for sex.

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