The Edward T. Gignoux U.S. Courthouse building in Portland as seen in this March 20, 2018, BDN file photo.

A Massachusetts man who admitted to forcing two women to work as prostitutes in exchange for drugs was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Portland to 17 years in prison.

Rashad Sabree, 37, of Boston pleaded guilty in July to two counts of sex trafficking. In exchange for his guilty pleas, the U.S. attorney’s office dismissed charges of kidnapping and prostitution.

In addition to prison time, U.S. District Judge Jon Levy sentenced Sabree to five years of supervised release and ordered him to pay $2,000 in restitution to the victims.

By pleading guilty, Sabree admitted that he forced two Maine women to engage in commercial sex in exchange for heroin between December 2015 and Jan. 5, 2016. Sabree verbally abused both victims and threatened to withhold the drug from them if they did not work as prostitutes “knowing that the victims would begin to go into withdrawal, become physically sick, and suffer severe pain,” court documents said.

Sabree forced the women to go with him to Massachusetts. During the drive, both women texted friends and family members saying that they were “in a bad situation” and that, “He’s pretty much holding us hostage.”

When Sabree discovered the messages, he began assaulting one of the victims, according to court documents. A passing motorist, who witnessed the assault while driving south on Interstate 95, called 911. Maine State Police responded and the defendant was arrested.

“This case demonstrates the important role that the public can play in helping to protect those who are vulnerable,” said Halsey Frank, Maine’s U.S. attorney.

Sabree faced between 15 years and life in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. His attorney, Federal Defender David Beneman, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Lipez jointly recommended a sentence of 15 years, according to court documents.

Maine is part of the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. These teams focus on developing high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions involving forced labor, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion through interagency collaboration among federal prosecutors and federal investigative agencies.

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.