Prostitutes’ ‘name game’ scheme often obscures extent of sex trade
This is part of an ongoing Blade investigation into teens exploited for sex.
She said she was a hooker. She said she was 18.
Her friend, also a teenage prostitute, was equally insistent: "Her name is Robin Martinez, and she’s 18 years old. I swear I know for a fact that’s true."
For Lake Township police that night, it was another round of prostitution arrests at truck stops off I-280 exits near the Ohio Turnpike – and another night of playing 20 questions with stubborn suspects.
"We call it ‘the name game,’ " said Lake Township Sgt. Brian Linscott, a veteran officer who patrols the asphalt sprawl of highway and truck stop parking lots.
It’s Street Cop 101, but not necessarily easy. As police know too well, people aren’t always who they say they are – especially prostitutes, and especially the young ones.
And if it’s tough for police to get identities straight, is underage prostitution even more extensive than law enforcement has documented?
"You have to remember we’re not dealing with your average law-abiding citizen who has a good Social Security number, a valid driver’s license …," said federal prosecutor Jim Clancy. "We’re dealing with runaway kids who have been trying to hide their identities since they ran away from home."
Using wiretaps, tracking money transfers, and poring over computer databases, Mr. Clancy and federal and state investigators last year built a nationwide case against alleged interstate sex traffickers, including nearly two dozen Toledo men and women accused of taking dozens of teens cross-country to work in prostitution.
By the time of the trial in Harrisburg, Pa. – for most defendants, that’s Oct. 2 – investigators will have worked on the case more than three years. This new approach treats prostitution as organized crime, not nuisance misdemeanors.
Yet despite sophisticated tactics, it still takes old-fashioned police work to win a hand of liar’s poker with a stubborn suspect.
"It’s my job to bluff them," said one Florida sheriff’s deputy who arrested a 17-year-old Toledo prostitute last year.
"And they’re having to lie so fast, in the end they can’t keep up with it."
A Pennsylvania state trooper relied on a three-ring binder with photos to sort out the names and faces behind the 102-page federal indictment in Harrisburg. As far back as 2002, Trooper David Olweiler swapped photos with Ohio law enforcement, hoping to ID hookers who were showing up at Harrisburg area truck stops. Many provided the same home city: Toledo.
"We knew there were some [Toledo area] truck stops they worked, but most of the girls we were dealing with here claimed they didn’t work around Toledo because of living there," the trooper said.
But local arrests suggest otherwise.
Lake Township’s Sergeant Linscott has spent years prying names and information from prostitutes arrested at township truck stops. By the time U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez stood before a packed Washington news conference Dec. 16 to announce the federal indictment against the Toledo men and women, the sergeant was already familiar with plenty of the names in the documents – and even some of the unnamed players.
Among them was the girl who, one early morning four years ago, insisted her name was "Robin Martinez."
By the time the sun began to rise – three hours after she and her older accomplice were handcuffed in a parking lot off Libbey Road – Sergeant Linscott had played several rounds of the name game.
He’d called a cell phone number the girl gave. A woman at the other end said she was the teen’s mother, and the sergeant’s hopes rose. Yet she couldn’t offer an ID. And while she knew the day of her daughter’s birth, she couldn’t remember the year. " ’83! ’83! I told you, dammit!" the sergeant heard a man’s voice say in the background.
"Oh yeah," the woman told the sergeant, "It’s ’83. I just remembered." Eventually, a distraught woman showed up at the police station. She was the girl’s mother – but this didn’t reassure Sergeant Linscott. She was upset, she admitted, because she too had been a prostitute.
Three years later, both names surfaced again – this time on separate prostitution arrest reports in Harrisburg. In two different arrests, the daughter gave conflicting years of birth. "I lied. Females lie. You know if you like a guy and he’s older you’re not going to tell him you’re underage. Because then you’re thinking … he’s not going to like me the same way because I’m a young girl."
They weren’t the only Toledo names familiar in both Lake Township and the federal court in Harrisburg. Among them: Derek Maes – Convicted of running prostitutes in Memphis in 1991, Maes was repeatedly named as a pimp or associate by prostitutes in Lake Township in the last three years, including by two teens – 16 and 17 years old – in 2003.
He was arrested for trespassing at a Lake Township truck stop in 2002 after police said he chased a prostitute who later admitted working for him. The sergeant was building a local case against Maes when the feds called him two years ago during their investigation. Sara Speaks, Melissa Jacobs, Lisa Gonzales – All were arrested multiple times for prostitution in Harrisburg and in Lake Township.
Ms. Speaks is the daughter of a Toledo police officer who was convicted in 2000 of running a sadomasochistic sex dungeon with her husband in their West Alexis Road home. Ms. Speaks, 19 at the time, was convicted as an accomplice. Ms. Gonzales said she and Ms. Speaks are good friends, and both have children by Maes.
Ms. Jacobs, also known as "Storm," is accused of being Maes’ "bottom bitch," a prostitute trusted to discipline pimps’ other hookers. Kory Barham, Robert Scott II, Derick Price – Accused of transporting and trading women in Harrisburg, the men were identified by Sergeant Linscott as pimps or associates in 2005.
Buffie Rae Brawley – In "the game" by age 13, she racked up prostitution-related arrests throughout the country, and was married to Maes. Murdered in March, 2004, her half-naked corpse was found in an abandoned truck stop near Indianapolis. No one was charged. Wayne Banks, Jr. – Serving one of the longest sentences for pimping, the former Toledoan, now 28, was named as a co-conspirator in the Harrisburg ring in December.
It wasn’t her tight jeans or the tiny shirt that snared Mike Gilmore’s eye that night in this high-crime Florida neighborhood. It was the teen’s aimlessness.
"She just seemed to have no real purpose," said the Escambia County sheriff’s deputy. He parked and watched. Within minutes, the girl flagged down a passing driver.
Deputy Gilmore pulled over the sedan and handcuffed the girl. As she sat in the back of his car, he began the name game.
"Something’s going on," he told the tearful girl. "You’re young, and I have to find out who you are. It’s my responsibility." By the end of his shift, Deputy Gilmore had the teen’s real name, two other women from Banks’ "stable" – and a major interstate trafficking case.
Already under investigation in Pennsylvania, Banks was arrested in Florida that night. Police seized his gold Cadillac, plus more than $1,100 inside. In October, U.S. District Judge Lacey Collier in Pensacola sentenced Banks to 40 years in prison for trafficking in children and five other charges. "These young girls," the judge said, "could never have a normal life because of you."
In Lake Township, Sgt. Linscott can’t say for sure how many juveniles he’s caught.
Cops don’t always win the "name game" and juveniles can have the upper hand. They might be bad liars, but they lack the criminal background that catalogs adults’ telltale marks, like scars and tattoos. Sometimes, they have an older accomplice, outfitted with a fake ID, who poses as a parent. Two months before they arrested "Robin Martinez," a 16-year-old runaway not only presented a stolen ID, she pleaded guilty under the alias.
But Sergeant Linscott can say this much about teen prostitution: it’s nothing new here. He even remembers his first case. In 1991, he arrested a 16-year-old runaway. It took days to straighten out her lies.
A woman the girl claimed was her mother turned out to be a suspected prostitute. The teen finally admitted to working as a hooker, according to a police report, and "was usually traded from pimp to pimp for rocks of crack cocaine." But even with solid information, convictions aren’t a sure thing.
In 1996, Lake Township police found two prostitutes – one 30, the other 17. Discovered in a hotel room with a 36-year-old man, crack pipes, and an assault rifle, the teen said she was there against her will. Sergeant Linscott said the woman said she’d been kidnapped, and their captor threatened to beat them if they didn’t prostitute for him.
In the end, the sergeant said, both women refused to testify. Patrolling at the I-280 truck stops Thursday night, Sergeant Linscott conceded it’s impossible to know how many prostitutes are underage.
"You know, you do the best, your very best, especially when you suspect you’re dealing with a kid. But is there a guarantee we have who they say they are? I can’t give you that."