It was a story local TV found hard to resist: a tearful Minnesota couple telling how their 15-year-old daughter had visited Houston only to be drugged and sold into sexual slavery.
The only trouble is, the daughter has returned home, and local law enforcement officials are saying they have no evidence any crime was committed.
Rodolfo and Elizabeth Rios said their daughter was visiting relatives on her way to spring break March 20 when she was abducted. The well-respected Texas EquuSearch and a volunteer group from Pampa called Team Amber joined in the hunt.
The girl was found three days later at a Galleria-area gas station with a bloody nose and a 27-year-old man. And that's where the sex-slave story started. But it didn't come from the daughter, it came from Team Amber director James Beistle.
"Basically, people are in the market to buy virgins," says Beistle. "It's like [ordering] in a Sears catalog."
If you run into Beistle, chances are you're going to hear about virgins. The retired engineer is growing his hair long to infiltrate a motorcycle group he suspects of being virgin-buyers. He also talks of sinister sheiks flying in on Learjets to purchase virgins -- as a sidelight to their real purpose for visiting the United States, which is to purchase black-market human organs. An annual elite-sheik's meeting in Morocco is often preceded by a hike in the abduction of teenage boys and girls worldwide, he says.
"Statistically, we can't prove anything right now," he says, but that's only because the FBI is sadly unaware of what's going on.
He convinced the Rioses and Texas EquuSearch's Tim Miller of the white-slavery tale, and the parents went on the air with the story.
But the daughter told police she was never a sex slave. The FBI looked into it and decided there was no federal crime committed. ("As usual," Beistle would no doubt say.)
HPD didn't really make much headway in its investigation. The girl was hazy about what happened during the three days she was gone; she remembered being asked if she'd like to earn $300, then waking up later with $300. But she couldn't provide any of the money to police to check for fingerprints. And she didn't say she was raped, so no testing was done.
Further questioning only made the family hostile, HPD's Sergeant Robert Decker says. The daughter eventually looked at her dad and said, "We're fucking out of here," and they left.
And somewhere, a sheik wept.
Houston Ballet has been heavily promoting its new director, Australian Stanton Welch, who took over for longtime legend Ben Stevenson. Welch has done publicity shots wearing a cowboy hat, just to show, we guess, that Houstonians like their ballet dancers butch. (Or at least attempting to look butch.)
But maybe it wasn't just posing. Welch has faced off with the ballet's star dancer and told him this town ain't big enough for the both of 'em.
Dominic Walsh, whose 17 years at Houston Ballet reached a pinnacle last year (we're assuming) when he was honored as Best Dancer by the Press, is leaving the company, if not the town.
"I gave it a shot, I was totally open to it," he says of HB's new regime. "But it just didn't give me what I needed."
Walsh and Welch are both choreographers, so perhaps a clash was inevitable. And since the new sheriff rode into town, the spotlight has shifted to dancers like Ian Casady and Simon Ball.
Welch said through a spokesman he told Walsh being both a choreographer and dancer would be difficult to do. Walsh will instead devote full energies to his Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, which he began in 2002.
No word yet on whether Welch has carved out a notch on his six-shooter.
Hey, all you pervs -- get yourself down to the local branch of the Houston Public Library ASAP. Your chance to view unfettered the glories of Ukrainian girls going down on farm animals is quickly slipping away.
Right now the library doesn't filter any Web surfing on computers outside the children's area. If you log on with a library card that shows you're over 17, you're free to check out all that your spam promises, without worrying about your fetishes being traced back to a home or work computer. (Privacy shields even keep passers-by from being shocked.) The library insists it doesn't keep track of where individual users go on the Web, although we can't imagine a child-porn site not raising an alarm somewhere.
At any rate, it'll all be over soon. In order to qualify for cheaper Web access, the library needs to comply with federal law -- and you know what that means. The adult computers will have the same safe-screening as those in the children's area. Soon users likely will have to approach a librarian and ask for the content-screening function to be temporarily disabled.
"We will not question them about their research topic," library spokeswoman Sandra Fernandez says. Still, that's a conversation sure to be layered in shame.
So spend a dollar and head for a video booth, you goddamn cheapskates.
Defense lawyers have been known to lay it on thick when it comes to touting the character of their clients, but Mike DeGeurin may have set a new standard with his April 6 memo pleading for a light sentence for Enron's Lea Fastow.
Fastow, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud, is described as "devoted to family, thoughtful, kind, unselfish and, since a small child, she has demonstrated an unusual empathy for others Lea is just a person, a mom, a modest daughter of Jack Weingarten who cares more for others than herself." (Apparently space precluded writing "a modest daughter of millionaire River Oaks businessman Jack Weingarten.")
Heartwarming pictures of Fastow on the beach with her kids, and reading to one on a couch, were included in the court document. "She is a mother first," the memo said.
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But DeGeurin's effort to nominate Fastow for Mother of the Year was oddly muted. It omitted this description of Fastow's parenting skills, from the January 14 plea agreement she signed, which the judge later threw out: "To maintain the false premise that the funds [from a sleazy off-the-books partnership] represented 'gifts' to the Defendant's family, several checks were made payable to the Defendant's children."
Now that is some fine mothering. Too bad they couldn't have included a shot of her doling out checks among the sand castles.
Lights! Camera! Sheila!
Houston politicos, who know a thing or two about getting on camera, are forever in awe at the skill and tenacity of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee whenever she spies a piece of photographic equipment. It could be a funeral, it could be at the speech of a competing polhell, it could be the grand opening of Houstons 5,487th Subway franchise. If theres a bright light, Lees attracted to it. Her addiction takes her to dark places where others fear to tread. Many of her colleagues stayed far, far away when Michael Jackson, human oddity and alleged child molester, visited the Capitol. Lee, on the other hand, waded right in, as the picture above shows. Many thought that might have been a nadir or a high point, depending on your view of Lees ability to horn her way into any publicity shot. Little did they know. Shes been doing this for a long, long time.