The 41-year-old former operator of a statewide prostitution enterprise was sentenced in Anchorage Monday afternoon to more than five years in prison on a charge of sex trafficking and violating probation.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Phillip Volland sentenced Amber Batts to five years for the charge of second-degree sex trafficking and one year -- with six months suspended -- for a probation violation in a previous case.
"I don't want to repeat this again," Batts said in a statement to the court. "I don't want to hurt the ones I love."
As Batts listened to her defense attorney give a statement, tears trickled down her cheek. Although Batts admitted to operating a sex trafficking ring, attorney Brandon Kelley argued she did not physically force the women who worked for her to participate in the operation and was less "heavy-handed" than others in similar positions. But assistant attorney general Adam Alexander argued her actions were still illegal. Had detectives found evidence she held women against their will or physically forced them to sell themselves for sex, she could have been charged with first-degree sex trafficking.
"There was a lot of reference to the fact Ms. Batts was not abusing the people directly who were working for her, but as the judge said ... that was a little bit of a straw argument because that isn't the conduct she was charged with," Alexander said in an interview after the hearing. "Ultimately, if there had been evidence Ms. Batts had used force or violence, she would have subjected to a much higher sentencing range."
The sentencing lasted two days, beginning on Friday and breaking for the weekend, because of the "factually complicated" nature of the case, according to Alexander.
Batts was arrested in July 2014 and originally faced eight sex trafficking charges but took a plea deal in May, pleading guilty to the single second-degree sex trafficking charge. Her husband, Quinn Batts, was also charged and pleaded guilty to third-degree sex trafficking in the spring.
Amber and Quinn Batts embraced before Volland took his seat at the head of the room and Amber Batts took her seat at the defense table Monday. Quinn Batts had already been sentenced to five years probation and a suspended two-year sentence for acting as her assistant in the operation, and sat behind her next to her other supporters.
Batts ran the escort service online and employed up to 10 women -- marketed in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Juneau, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula -- which the Alaska Bureau of Investigation's Ramin Dunford testified is a large enterprise in Alaska.
Investigators also found that Batts pre-screened clients before she set up dates for the women and used credit cards for some of the transactions. In Monday's testimony, Alexander said $65,000 in credit card transactions from the women's dates were deposited into her personal bank account. Batts would then give the women their share. The sum does not include any cash transactions, he said.
Kelley also said Batts discouraged drug use while in charge of the sex trafficking business. Dunford agreed with that detail, saying that it would have interfered with cash flow. But in audio from an interview with Batts, she said she wanted the money to go to the workers' bills and children, not the "dope man."
Overall, Batts' operation was "sophisticated," Alexander said.
"She was a very good businesswoman," Dunford said.
As Volland handed down the sentence, he noted that part of his decision was based on Batts' prior record, including a felony conviction in 2009 for stabbing a man in the neck two years prior. She was on probation for that crime when she began operating the online sex trafficking enterprise.
"She seems smart and self-aware, but I don't see that probation is going to redirect her conduct," Volland said.