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Alleged driver testifies against Graves
Graves

Alleged driver testifies against Graves

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Federal jurors heard from more state's witnesses, including a man who said he sold drugs and drove women to and from sex transactions, in the fourth day of the trial against drug- and sex-trafficking suspect Keith Graves. 

Graves faces 11 counts related to sex trafficking by force or coercion, distributing and possessing methamphetamine and obstruction in the U.S. District Court for North Dakota. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Grayling "Gray" Smith, of Houston, Texas, told the jury he received a trial summons two days ago and only agreed to testify against Graves that day, after receiving a promise of immunity against federal charges stemming from his testimony.

Smith said he and Graves met in Williston. Both men were homeless and had gone to the Bakken oil field looking for work.

"Our paths crossed in Pastor (Jay) Reinke's church," Smith said. 

Reinke gained national fame when he was the subject of a documentary, "The Overnighters," which showed how Reinke had opened his Lutheran church as an overnight shelter for homeless workers.

Graves, too, had a prominent role in that documentary.

Smith said his initial encounter with Graves was brief. A few years later, Smith said Graves approached him in Williston, resulting in a relationship that exploited Smith's lifelong struggle with drugs.

When Smith was fired from an oilfield job for having marijuana in his system, he said Graves swooped in with an offer of help. Over the course of four to six weeks, Graves allegedly had Smith package and sell methamphetamine for him. Smith said he also used his van to drive women to and from meetings with men.

"It was all a ploy to manipulate me into this situation. And it worked. It worked," Smith said, pausing to recover his composure.

Graves never paid in money. Instead, he allegedly gave Smith food, gas or drugs.

"I would get drugs from him. We would kick it and drink beers," said Smith, adding that he hated participating in Graves' operation. He said he would tell the women to leave this sort of life, which led to tension with Graves.

"I have three daughters myself. And I wouldn't want them to know (Graves)," said Smith, adding he was ashamed and disgusted by his actions. It wasn't until he left Williston that he was able to get out of Graves' control, he said.

Under cross examination by Graves, who is conducting his own legal defense, Smith admitted that he didn't believe that the women he encountered, whose names he largely did not know, were trapped. He said they were free to leave at any time.

"My understanding is they were willing participants. Consenting," he said.

Also Thursday, three more victim witnesses took the stand to testify against Graves. Like those before them, each of the women spoke of their history with drug abuse and how Graves exploited it.

One woman said that, while she was able to resist Graves' sexual advances and efforts to force into prostitution, she was unable to protect her cousin, of whom Graves allegedly forced to commit sexual acts in exchange for gas to get home.

"He basically made me feel like I pimped her out," she said.

Graves' alleged propensity for violence was also subject to further discussion on Thursday.

Another witness told the jury that Graves once became angry at her for failing to return with money and repeatedly used a Taser on her. That woman said Graves also raped her on several occasions. 

The trial for Graves is expected to continue through next week.

(Reach Andrew Sheeler at 701-250-8225 or andrew.sheeler@bismarcktribune.com.)

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