Christopher Cool Wilmer is six feet tall, 220 pounds. The 29-year-old has a criminal history that stretches back over a decade and includes a drive-by shooting, drugs, and assault. On the night of February 22, he allegedly checked a 16-year-old girl into a Motel 6 at SE 92nd Avenue and Stark, then departed.
Later that night, the girl opened the door of her room to find two Portland cops. (The police reported that she was naked.) Inside the room, the police found a startled man—the girl’s alleged client. They also found Wilmer’s duffel bag.
Thanks to the name on the bag’s luggage tag, and video of him checking the girl into the motel, Washington state police ultimately tracked Wilmer down and sent him back to Portland. Until this particular arrest, Wilmer had always landed in the small-time world of county courts and “community corrections,” never serving time in prison. But this time, local authorities took a step that once would never have occurred to them in such a case: they called in prosecutors from Portland’s US Attorney’s office, members of the elite corps of lawyers who serve the attorney general and the president of the United States. Now the alleged pimp faces federal child sex trafficking charges, with the possibility of life in prison. (At press time, Wilmer is scheduled for trial on October 9, but delays are possible.) Several other Portland-area criminals are already doing federal time for various charges related to child sex trafficking. In March, for example, Stanley “Bug” Spriggs Jr. was sentenced to 16 years for pimping two minor girls.
As recently as 2006, the federal government filed zero indictments for child sex trafficking in Oregon. This year, however, the feds here have already charged eight men and two women with trafficking-related crimes, with more indictments likely before year’s end. Convictions in these cases would send the guilty parties away for long stints in places like California’s Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex or Oregon’s Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.
In each case that ends with a perpetrator in federal prison, the convicted pimp will find himself right where Amanda Marshall, Oregon’s new and, in many ways, unlikely US attorney, wants him.
A United States attorney is the federal government’s top-ranking lawyer in a particular jurisdiction, defending the government in court and prosecuting federal crimes. The post dates to the earliest days of the republic and is among the most sought-after in law. While some of the nation’s 93 US attorneys serve in geographically smaller areas carved out of more populous states—California has four, for example—Amanda Marshall, who took office in October 2011 after a lengthy appointment process, is the one and only US attorney for Oregon.
IN 2006, THE FEDS FILED NO CHILD-TRAFFICKING CASES HERE. THIS YEAR, THEY’VE CHARGED 10 PEOPLE.
In a given day, the full range of human malfeasance might cross the 43-year-old Marshall’s desk. Some of the criminal cases her office handles have a ripped-from-the-headlines urgency (or could have inspired AMC’s meth drama Breaking Bad), like the four-year prosecution of a drug-world figure nicknamed “Don Prieto.” (At the conclusion of that case, the Don—real name: Enrique Orozco-Marin—was convicted of running hundreds of pounds of pseudoephedrine from Canada to the United States and sentenced to eight years.) The touchiest cases in her charge involve terrorism, such as the upcoming trial of Mohamed Mohamud, the Portlander whom the feds accuse of plotting to bomb the Pioneer Courthouse Square holiday tree lighting in 2010. (Mohamud’s lawyers are expected to argue that federal investigators entrapped him.) Then there’s the rote work of federal prosecution—felons with handguns, bank robbers, drug dealers—and representing the government’s side in civil lawsuits. Marshall also discovered some of the job’s more parochial political dimensions in September, when her office released an investigation of Portland cops’ treatment of mentally ill people that managed to anger both police officers and some police critics.
Yet even as they handle the nation’s endlessly complex legal business, Marshall and her colleagues across the country have the power to emphasize signature issues by choosing how their staff attorneys spend their time. A few transform the office into a bully pulpit. Preet Bharara, the US attorney for New York City and its environs, made Time’s cover (under the headline “This Man Is Busting Wall Street”) and that magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The former US Attorney for the District of New Jersey delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention this summer, this time as Governor Chris Christie.
Marshall says she has a few high-ranking priorities, national security among them. But one stands out as unusual for her position: child sex trafficking. In her short time so far, Marshall has directed her staff to get more busts, more indictments, and more convictions for a crime that typically victimizes teenage girls in metro areas. It’s very rare for a federal prosecutor to emphasize child sex trafficking, according to Lewis & Clark law professor Tung Yin, a close observer of federal law enforcement and a former clerk for several federal judges. Marshall has directed three attorneys to focus on the issue and integrated the fight against trafficking with her office’s anti-gang work: a significant upgrade in attention for a crime usually left to local cops and prosecutors.
Marshall, who keeps her blonde hair long and straight and leans to the female Democrat power uniform of dark pantsuits and modest heels, talks like a proselytizer, arguing that the country’s gradual awakening to the realities of rape in the 1970s, of child abuse in the ’80s, and of domestic violence in the ’90s can happen now for child sex trafficking. “We have an opportunity to choose engagement over skepticism and defeat,” Marshall says. “We can grab this moment and show what can be done when we work together, when we put our communities and our children above ourselves.” Her face, broad and open by default, narrows, and her blue eyes glitter with intensity when she hits upon the subject.
Though her office is technically nonpartisan, presidents choose US attorneys: since taking office in 2009, Barack Obama has nominated new people—including Marshall—to 90 of the 93 total positions. If elections have consequences, as politicians are fond of saying, Amanda Marshall’s current position is a direct result of Obama’s election four years ago. How long she keeps that position, and how much time she has to pursue pimps in Portland and elsewhere, can be counted as one of the innumerable questions decided on November 6.