Four years ago, Ronnie Presley jammed a gun in the face of a teen-aged girl walking down the street in Kansas, pulled her into his car and drove her to Houston. There, he forced her to have sex for money. Every dime she earned went into Presley's pocket. As time went by, Presley threatened to hurt the girl's family if she ever told on him, he abused and beat the girl, and then tried to sell her to another pimp.
For that teen-aged girl, the nightmare is finally over. At least according to the Houston U.S. Attorney's Office.
Earlier today, Houston's U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson announced that Presley and his troupe of five other sex-slavers have been charged with a hefty load of federal crimes, including sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking by force and the transportation and coercion of minors.
The five men and one woman team are "charged with in effect turning four 16-year-olds into indentured sex slaves," Johnson said. "The children worked in deplorable conditions, their earnings were taken from them and they were kept from ever leaving."
The details are grim.
The group is accused of running girls, both children and adults, in to Houston from other states, including Florida, Kansas, Arizona and Nevada, and then making them prostitute themselves in one of three business fronts here owned and operated by the gang. The businesses, Taboo Modeling Studio North off the North Freeway, Total Pleasures off of the Gulf Freeway, and Paris of Katy in Katy, appeared to be operating as modeling studios, health spas and massage parlors, authorities say. The group advertised these businesses all over the Web and in local papers. In one instance, an ad for a minor read, "just turned 18 and ready," authorities say.
The defendants are John "Big John" Butler, 47, William "Pookie" Hornbeak, 34, Jamine "Fresh" Lake, 27, Kristen "Princess" Land, 28, Andre "Dre" McDaniels, 39, and Ronnie "Pimpin'" Presley, 35.
Among the victims is Jessica Ford, who worked out of Total Pleasures and a brothel in Nevada, according to the indictment. Butler is accused of flying Ford back and forth between the two to work as a prostitute. Three other minors, ages 16 and 17, are mentioned in the indictment. One was allegedly sold to a different pimp, all three were allegedly beaten routinely. None of the victims were foreigners and Johnson said today that he does not know the condition of the women and girls.
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"It's disturbing that events of this nature occur," Johnson said, "but it's especially disturbing when it happens in your own backyard."
This particular investigation, dubbed "Operation Total Exposure," began in May 2005. Since then, said Houston's FBI Special Agent in Charge, Richard Powers, a joint operation including HPD and the FBI has rescued 40 women victims from sex slavery, 30 of them in the last year. The feds are calling this case "the largest domestic human sex trafficking case in Houston." When asked why, Johnson said it was because "It's not often that you have four children in one investigation."
All of the defendants were arrested in Houston on Monday and today. All but Presley, who is living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Police there had him cornered earlier today, Johnson said, but Presley managed to escape. He is still at large and a wanted man.
"Presley was fast," Johnson said. "He might have challenged Usain Bolt."