Why Would the FBI Be Interested in Deshaun Watson Allegations? We Explain

This week League of Justice broke the news that the FBI is investigating allegations aimed at Texans Quarterback Deshaun Watson. His attorney, Rusty Hardin confirmed it in a press conference the next day and also said the FBI contacted him back in April and he claims it is examining an alleged extortion attempt on Watson by one of his accusers. The accuser’s attorney denies any such investigation. Watson faces civil lawsuits involving nearly two dozen women alleging various forms of sexual assault and/or harassment by Watson. He is the subject of a local police investigation in Houston and now the feds are involved in some way, shape or form but exactly what they are investigating is not clear. Watson remains innocent until proven guilty and has not been charged with any crime as of now.

But why would the FBI care about this case? It was the first question, Plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee says he asked the agents when they came to visit him at his Houston office.

“He said to me [the FBI agent], he’s like, ‘look, what I’ve heard is that most of the reachouts occurred via the internet which creates jurisdiction for us,’ said Buzbee, describing his alleged conversation. He says the Agent continued, “But then I understand there were these two women that were from out of state, which obviously creates more jurisdiction as well.” 

Jurisdiction is a legal term that describes the power a state or local agency has to investigate a specific case. For example, when a crime occurs within state lines, such as a burglary or robbery or assault, the jurisdiction usually lies with the local police department. The state is the one who prosecutes the alleged criminal on behalf of the People of the state. However, when an alleged crime occurs across state lines and affects interstate travel or commerce the feds may get involved and investigate and charge the suspect with a federal crime. This may not affect the state’s case at all and you may see charges at both the state and federal level depending on the nature of the crime. Oftentimes agencies at the state and federal level will work together and share information and sometimes the state will defer to the feds and let them take the lead. However, both local police and federal law enforcement may bring charges against the same person. The charges at the federal level differ from the ones at the state level. For example, at the state level, Watson is being investigated for allegations of sexual assault. Sexual assault is generally a state law crime. Again, he has not been charged with any crime as of yet. The use of the internet, for example, is not really relevant to whether sex assault occurred.

In contrast, if Watson used the internet to reach out to some of his accusers for criminal purposes, then he may have committed a federal crime. Using the internet in and of itself to contact people is not a crime. Similarly, meeting people on the Internet and striking up a sexual relationship with them later or agreeing to have casual sex before or after meeting online is also not a crime. But, using the Internet to meet people for the purpose of forcing them to have sex AND paying them for that forced sex could very well be a federal crime that could fall under human sex trafficking depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. Similarly, meeting someone online or in person AND paying them for sex could also be a local or federal crime that would fall under soliciting prostitution or straight prostitution if it can be proven. In Texas, people who BUY sex can now be charged with felonies, not just the women or men who offer commercial sex.

This means that if the feds are examining whether Watson improperly used the Internet to sex traffic or solicit prostitutes, they would need to find some very convincing evidence to prove a number of things. Here’s what they would need to prove to make such a case:

  1. The person used interstate or foreign commerce to achieve their objective (use of internet or transporting someone across state lines counts);
  2. The person trafficked someone. Note: Trafficking doesn’t just mean transporting, it can mean any ONE of the following: recruits, entices, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, advertises, maintains, patronizes, or solicits by any means a person;
  3. The person must intend or know that they plan to cause their target to engage in a paid sex act by using any ONE of the following: force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, or any combination of such means.
  4. The person then causes someone to engage in a sex act by using force, threats of force, fraud, coercion or any combination of the above
  5. And either money or something of value is given in exchange for the sex act

If ALL of this occurs and there is evidence to prove it all beyond a reasonable doubt, then someone may be charged federally with sex trafficking under Title 18 of the USC Code, Section 1590 or its related counterparts. Other federal laws could also apply depending on the facts of the case.

How does this apply to Deshaun Watson? Let’s go step by step. If you look at the civil complaints drafted by his nearly two dozen accusers you will see allegations that Watson used the internet, specifically Instagram, to allegedly contact his accusers. Did he recruit, entice, patronize or solicit any of them? They say he requested massages. Whether that qualifies as any of the above, would need to be proven. He also allegedly transported at least two of them across state lines. You will also see key words in their allegations. Some of the women allege that Watson used “force,” or “threats.” That the women felt “fear” or felt they would be harmed financially, reputation wise or physically if they did not comply. Did this all occur? We don’t know. It would need to be proven.

Next, The women either allege sex acts were coerced by Watson against their will or there were attempts to coerce them to perform sex acts. Most, if not all of the women received compensation, creating a commercial transaction. While the money was supposed to be for a massage, the argument could be made that Watson was not after a massage, he was allegedly after sex and if sex occurred then one could argue the payment was really for that under the cover of a massage. However, one important fact remains. The feds would need to prove Watson possessed a criminal mind at the time he reached out on Instagram. They would need evidence that he wasn’t after a massage, but instead reached out knowing he was going to force the women into sex at the time he met with them. In other words, that it was a plot. A plot can be established with a pattern. It’s possible that the large number of accusers and similar fact patterns in their civil complaints plus the use of Instagram is what drew the feds attention to Watson’s case. But investigating and finding enough proof to meet all the elements of the law are two very different things.

The feds would also have to prove that Watson actually forced these women to perform sex and that it was not consensual or didn’t evolve naturally. Finally, the feds would have to prove sex occurred and it was paid for. All of this would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Again, Watson denies all of the allegations and right now there are no federal or state charges so he is merely being accused. He claims one of his accusers tried to extort money from him and that several others had consensual sex with him. Of note is that Watson has alleged text messages from one of his accusers who claimed he forced her to perform oral sex, thanking him for the opportunity to massage him and allegedly attempting to schedule another massage & more messages where she is allegedly later apologizing for her behavior. Read the messages HERE. The credibility of the women and the surrounding evidence in the form of texts, calls or documents and witnesses will all become critical in the analysis of who is telling the truth and what actually happened between two people behind closed doors. Practically speaking, we may never know.

The FBI will neither confirm nor deny any investigation. Right now we will have to wait and see how this evolves and give Watson the benefit of the doubt since he is innocent until proven guilty. However, this article merely lays out how, if at all, the Watson case could relate to rumors of trafficking and why the feds would be interested in investigating the allegations.

No conclusions pertaining to guilt or innocence should be drawn from this article. It is intended for hypothetical and general educational purposes only!