Girl found at a Gulfport hotel. A man with her is accused of human trafficking, sheriff says

Maxwell Isley Philliips
Maxwell Isley Philliips - Harrison County Adult Detention Center

A 17-year-old girl from Sweeney, Texas, reportedly took a bus to Gulfport to meet a man whom she had become acquainted with on the internet.

Police and federal agents arrested the man on a human trafficking charge Tuesday at a Gulfport hotel and took the girl into protective custody, Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson said.

It’s the second time in nearly four years that deputies have arrested Maxwell Isley Phillips on a human trafficking charge.

Phillips, 30, lives at InTown Suites, an extended-stay hotel at 9145 U.S. 49, Peterson said. The area is south of Airport Road.

The girl had not been reported missing, but information given to HSI led to the arrest on Tuesday, he said.

Sheriff’s investigators and Homeland Security Investigations agents went to his Isley’s room at the extended-stay hotel with a search warrant, Peterson said.

The human trafficking charge indicates Phillips was exploiting the girl for labor, commercial sex or other services against her will. That’s the definition of the crime under state law.

The girl also is a minor, under the age of 18, according to state law.

The girl later Tuesday was put on a bus, headed to Sweeney, Texas, to be reunited with her family, Peterson said.

Phillips was being held at the Harrison County jail on a $250,000 bond set by Justice Court Judge Brandon Ladner.

Not his first time

Sheriff’s investigators arrested Phillips on the same charge in November 2014.

He was suspected of pimping out a 14-year-old Harrison County girl who had run away from home, according to an affidavit reported on at the time by the Sun Herald.

Phillips was accused of renting a hotel room for the girl at the Days Inn, also on U.S. 49, and lining up “dates” for her through an ad on Craig’s List. A man who had set up a date with her took her home to meet his parents.

The girl reportedly told the man she charged $250 for sex for 15 minutes, $400 for half an hour and $600 for an hour.

The man called the sheriff’s department to report it.

The girl later told an investigator she and Phillips split the money, an affidavit said.

A Harrison County grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict Phillips, Peterson said.

39 cases in the state

A total of 39 human trafficking cases are being investigated in Mississippi this year, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and A total of 77 calls have been made, seven of them by victims or survivors.

The number of 39 does not count the Phillips investigation.

Here’s a breakdown of statistics on cases reported this year in Mississippi, according to the resource center:

  • 33 are sex trafficking cases, and three each are cases and labor trafficking and sex and labor.

  • Of the 39 cases, 14 of the victims are minors and 18 are adults.

  • Most of them, 27, are females, four are males.

  • The the top venues for sex trafficking: Hotel/motel, 5; escort services, 5; illegal massage/spa, 4; residence-based commercial sex, 3; and online ad, 3.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline — 1-888-373-7888 — operates with federal funds and grants, and compiles the statistics in each state nationwide.

Calls are answered 24-7 and translators are available.

Or victims can text the word help to 233733 (BeFree).

JJ Spa in St. Martin was shut down by state and federal officials in November 2015, charging the owner with human trafficking. She later pled guilty to money laundering charges and was sentenced to 35 months in jail.

Robin Fitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews