By Julietta Bisharyan, Lea Barrios, and Brittany Mason
WOODLAND, CA – A man in Yolo County is facing seven charges for pimping and pandering after his preliminary hearing.
The defendant, Ray Thomas Lawler, has allegedly been continuing to run his prostitution ring from his jail cell by contacting his fiancée, who was one of the alleged prostitutes.
The witness called to the stand was Detective Jennifer Davis, an expert in sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and pimping cases for 15 years. From her previous training, she was able to recognize that Lawler was pimping via email.
The witness immediately identified the defendant in the courtroom. She noticed that two of the women associated with Lawler had a similar line in their escort ads which stated, “I’m shy at first but a freak when provoked.”
The Yolo County Jail has a system that allows those incarcerated to have occasional contact with people outside of jail by either text messages or phone calls. There, the investigation found phone records between Lawler and his fiancée where he gives her instructions on how much to charge and which area not to post ads at.
While investigating Lawler, the investigation team was able to obtain a Google production from Google by a search warrant. This production was connected to the known emails Lawler used for making the accounts for prostitution. The production itself included many files in which each had a large number of photos. These photos were then used to cross-reference photographs from prostitution “ads” of the various suspected victims of Lawler’s to confirm that they had a connection to him.
During the preliminary hearing, Lawler’s phone calls were reviewed as evidence, one of which showed that Lawler insisted his fiancée go on “dates” as an escort because he wanted her to put the money she received as an escort in his commissary account. In one of these recorded calls, the defendant’s fiancée said she doesn’t want to “hoe” anymore, to which he told her she needed to get back out there. However, Detective Davis, when questioned by Lawler’s defense attorney, did say that Lawler had suggested that the ultimate goal was for the victim to not have to work, i.e. in prostitution, anymore.
Detective Davis reviewed multiple Facebook message exchanges between Lawler and various women. In many of their conversations, Lawler would ask the women if they were interested in going on “dates.” The identities of these women were confirmed by California driver’s licenses, except for one. Detective Davis confirmed in her expert opinion that Lawler had encouraged these women to work under him as a prostitute.
Lawler’s defense attorney argued that one of the Facebook profiles didn’t have a confirmed identity and it is possible that account is a “bot” or a computer-generated profile. Further, the defense attorney for Lawler questioned Detective Davis about whether she had any evidence that these women who had said they had gone on “dates” had in fact done so.
Besides one of the victims telling Lawler that she had in fact gone on various dates according to phone records, they had not found evidence. She also argued that the Yolo County Superior Court may not have jurisdiction because one of the main victims is in Texas.
The court ruled that they do because Lawler is in Yolo County Jail and some of these crimes were committed while he was in custody. Lastly, the defense attorney pointed out that Lawler’s fiancée, whom he allegedly pimped for profit, worked odd jobs that paid under the table and it is possible that is where the money that she gave to the defendant came from.
In one of the ad photographs of the prostitutes, the background shows a mirror reflecting a man who resembles the defendant taking the ad photos.
While in jail, Lawler also stayed in contact with his brother, who lives with the defendant’s fiancée and son-in-law. According to phone records, Lawler would ask his brother to be more aggressive with his fiancée and even referred to her as a “cash cow.” He would even encourage his brother to “preach family” to her. Further, records show Lawler expressing that once he got out of custody he would get more “bitches” and subsequently get more money.
It was also revealed that Lawler’s fiancée was a prostitute prior to meeting him. The defense tried to argue that Lawler had not encouraged her to be a prostitute but rather she was one already prior to when she and Lawler had met. The prosecutor, however, stressed that the intent of Lawler in recruiting her back into prostitution still remains.
The arraignment for this case is Feb. 19, 2020.