4 arrested in Fla. foster child prostitution ring
MIAMI (AP) -- Four men are accused of operating an underage prostitution ring that lured vulnerable foster girls into the sex trade with cell phones, gifts of clothing and attention they did not get elsewhere, authorities said Tuesday.
The girls were paid $100 for each time they had sex with a man and were allowed to keep up to $40 of that amount, according to an investigator's affidavit. Many were recruited by one of the girls, identified by her initials S.S., who had been targeted by alleged ringleader Eric George "E-Nasty" Earle, said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Rundle said most of the girls were 15 to 17 years old and were in foster care because of previous physical or sexual abuse and neglect.
"They targeted our most vulnerable children," Rundle told reporters. "They are predators."
Charged in the case are Earle, 29; Willie Calvin "Tank" Bivens, 65; Anturrell Nathaniel Dean, 30; and 34-year-old David Zarifi. Each face multiple counts of conspiracy racketeering and child sex charges and could face lengthy prison sentences if convicted.
Court records did not list attorneys Tuesday for Earle, Bivens and Dean. An attorney representing Zarifi did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Law enforcement and child welfare officials around the country have long struggled with similar cases.
Pimps prey on runaways and foster kids, who are often victims of sexual abuse. They typically pose as boyfriends, showering girls with attention and gifts, then slowly lure them into turning tricks, experts say. The girls are often fiercely loyal to the pimps and refuse to acknowledge they are victims or cooperate with police, making them difficult cases to prosecute.
Rundle called it an example of "trauma bonding."
"The girls don't really want to talk about it. They don't want to tattle-tale," she said.
In this case, the biggest enticement was a cell phone that allowed the teenage victims the all-important ability to text -- but it also provided an easy way for the gang to set up meetings for sex with "johns," officials said.
The investigation began in December when a 17-year-old foster child identified only as M.D. told an employee at a foster care group home she had been having sex with a man. That led to a call to police. A search of her cell phone turned up graphic sexual images and pictures of her with Zarifi, according to the affidavit.
The girl also told investigators she had been recruited at a group home by another teenager, identified in documents as S.S., who said she could earn money by having sex. Authorities said the ring picked M.D. up at school or at the group home and often took her to Bivens' house in Homestead to have sex with men.
Two other girls told investigators they were also recruited to be part of the prostitution ring by S.S. and Earle. One of them, identified as J.D., told investigators that Earle "knew that they were minors at the time he recruited them."
Florida is the third most popular American destination for human traffickers and domestic sex trafficking of young victims is among the most underreported offenses, according to the Department of Children and Families. The agency launched a statewide task force in 2009 and has stressed a need for better data on victims, pimps and better education in the public and private sector.
Esther Jacobo, DCF's managing director in Miami, said nationally at least 300,000 children are at risk for prostitution, many of them in foster care and group homes. She noted that the investigation in this case began because a group home employee was paying attention.
"We can't do this on our own," Jacobo said. "You the public have to be aware of what is going on. You have to understand it and you have to report it."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)