North Dakota town sees 1st human trafficking case

AP News
Posted: Aug 01, 2014 8:10 PM

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — A convicted sex offender from California now living in the North Dakota oil patch town of Williston was charged Friday in what police say is their first human trafficking case.

Keith Graves, 38, faces several charges for acts that authorities allege happened over a few days in July. During a hearing Friday, Graves denied any wrongdoing and his bond was set at $2 million.

Graves is one of the main subjects in a documentary called "The Overnighters" that follows a local Lutheran pastor who opened up his church and its parking lot to workers arriving in Williston with no place to stay. It highlighted the tensions between locals and the tens of thousands of newcomers who have arrived there in the past few years to work in the oil fields.

The charges Graves face include gross sexual imposition, human trafficking, promoting prostitution, possession of drug paraphernalia, terrorizing, felonious restraint and reckless endangerment. He also faces misdemeanor charges of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and simple assault.

State's Attorney Seymour Jordan said there were three victims. In Friday's bond hearing, Jordan added that a firearm "or something similar to a firearm" was used during some of the offenses.

According to authorities, Graves forced at least one woman to perform oral sex on him and also had sex with a woman while she was unaware it was happening. They say he also "caused an unknown substance believed to be narcotics to be injected" into a woman's body.

Graves appeared at Friday's bond hearing via video from Williams County Jail.

"I'm not guilty of the charges that I have," Graves said.

Detective Jacob Gregory of the Williston Police Department said the human trafficking case was the first the department had handled. He said the FBI was also involved with the case.

"The Overnighters" won the Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and is expected to be released more widely later this year. In the film, Graves is identified as a truck driver from California. He is one of the men staying at the Rev. Jay Reinke's church.

In the film, The Williston Herald begins reporting on registered sex offenders living at the church and publishes their addresses in the paper. At that point, the pastor invites Graves to stay with him at his home.

Graves was convicted in California in 1999 of a felony charge for lewd acts with a child under the age of 14, according to the North Dakota state's attorney and state sex offender records.

The Class AA felonies Graves faces, including human trafficking, carry a maximum life sentence; the Class A felonies carry a maximum sentence of 20 years; and the Class C felonies carry a maximum sentence of five years.