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Sex Trafficking Jury Is Told Victim Had Agency As Case Agents Steam in Masks In Back Row

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN

SDNY COURTHOUSE, June 11 – Natalie Rodriguez worked as a prostitute on Long Island for Justin Rivera, in 2015 and 2016.

On June 9, 2021 she testified against him, in a plexiglass booth before a dozen masked jurors in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

On June 11 she was a subject of the defense's closing argument. Inner City Press was there for both, and files this report. 

  Justin Rivera, who spends his nights in the Metropolitan Correctional Center now, sat in a purple sweater at the defense table, listening to the audio tapes as they played on June 9.

 In one, Natalie called him "Daddy." In another, he told her to snatch jewelry from clients, and to put $1000 (a band) in his jail commissary account. In one final jail call, he told her to come upstate and rent a hotel room. She refused, pregnant with her son, she said.  

As she testified, and was questioned by the Assistant US Attorney about what kind of sex she had with clients, Natalie Rodriguez alternately glared, sipped water, and played with her hair. 

 In the gallery, next to Inner City Press which was specifically admonished not to use its cell phone (having been ordered by Judge Engelmayer once before, in the Tekashi69 case, to not "tweet in my courtroom"), were two women. It seemed possible they were relatives of Natalie Rodriguez.

But Justin Rivera turned around and smiled at them.  

 At 4:55 pm, SDNY Judge Paul A. Engelmayer called it a day and let the jury go.

Then Natalie Rodriguez left the courtroom, with what appeared to be two guards. Or were they U.S. Marshalls, like the one who brought Rivera over from the MCC? 

  Jump cut to Friday June 11, and Rivera's lawyer in his closing admitted, there were guns, Justin beat Natalie, they engaged in prostitution business. But he said Natalie had agency, that she chose to prostitute herself. He began, soon another person will be in that chair --

  The Assistant US Attorney objected, and Judge Engelmayer sustained the objection. With the jury out to lunch, he admonished the defense for misstating the standard on venue. It's not if the jury doubts the memory of being in Manhattan and the Bronx, it's the preponderance of evidence.

 In the back of Courtroom 318 where Inner City Press stood, case agents with shield conferred, some shaking their heads. Could his guy get away with it? It may be next week before that is known.

  On June 9, back in the SDNY Press Room, Inner City Press which had covered the first version of this case, pre-COVID, found out that Rodriguez had been sent to Florida by Rivera, something the prosecution is trying to keep from the jury.

  The US Attorney's Office filed a letter, that it wanted entirely sealed, about the Florida trip.

Now in the docket, heavily redacted, it says that "the Government may ask the jury, for instance, to infer that the defendant had no problem with Ms. Rodriguez remaining in Florida for a short time period because, in the afther of her kidnapping, the bruises to Ms. Rodriguez' face made her useless to the defendant as a prostitute."  

During this kidnapping, on June 19, 2015, Natalie Rodriguez was beaten and questions about Rivera's potention involving in a June 3, 2015 shooting in Wyandanch, New York, in which three people were killed in a sports utility vehicle.

Then seven paragraphs are redacted.  

The case is US v. Justin Rivera, 19-cr-131 (Engelmayer).

If it were US v. Jeffrey Epstein, or now US v. Ghislaine Maxwell, the courtroom would be full and there would be more reports that this. Watch this site.


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