FLORENCE, South Carolina (WJBF) — One North Carolina man is now spending time behind bars in federal prison after forcing minor into prostitution.

Authorities say Johnny Ricardo Thomas, also known as Rico and Lulu, 34, of Durham, North Carolina, was sentenced to more than 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to coercing minors in engaging in prostitution in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina and other places.

According to the official press release, evidence presented to the Court showed that the case began when officers with the Myrtle Beach Police Department interviewed a 15-year-old runaway who reported she was the victim of human trafficking.

The release continues with more investigation by the Myrtle Beach Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) revealing that sometime in March 2019, Thomas, the 15-year-old minor victim, a second 16-year-old minor victim, and others, travelled from North Carolina to the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina and other places for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.

According to authorities, Thomas knew the two victims were minors, and he would take pictures of them creating online advertisements making the minors available for sex and forcing the victims to engage in sexual acts for money. 

According to one of the minor victims, Thomas told her he would sell her to someone worse – who would do things like slice off her toes – if she did not perform commercial sex acts.

According to authorities, Thomas was sentenced to 262 months in federal prison to be followed by a lifetime term of court-ordered supervision, and he was also ordered by the judge to pay restitution to his victims. 

Authorities say Thomas’ conviction was part of Thomas’ lengthy criminal history which includes breaking and entering, felon in possession of a firearm, possession with intent to distribute narcotics, assault on a government official, and resisting arrest. 

According to authorities, Becca Mills, 25, of Whispering Pines, North Carolina, is a co-defendant in this case and has pled guilty to a charge related to concealing Thomas’s crimes from law enforcement, and she will be sentenced at a later date.