FBI: NC Inmate Helped Orchestrate Kidnapping

A North Carolina prison inmate used a smuggled mobile phone to keep in touch with kidnappers holding the father of a prosecutor who helped send him away for life, federal authorities said.

Five people were arrested and Frank Arthur Janssen, a Wake Forest man whose daughter prosecutes violent crimes, was rescued late Wednesday following a raid by the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team on an Atlanta apartment.

During the abduction, the kidnappers took a picture of Janssen tied up in a chair and sent it to his wife, threatening to torture and dismember him if she went to police, the FBI said in court documents.

Janssen’s kidnapping was related to his daughter’s prosecution of Kelvin Melton, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the shooting of a man in 2011, said John Strong, the FBI’s agent in charge for North Carolina.

Authorities say Melton, 49, had a mobile phone in his cell at Polk Correctional Institution in Butner, exchanging at least 123 calls and text messages with the alleged kidnappers in the past week. Authorities closed in on the suspects by tracking their mobile phones and listening to their calls.

According to testimony from his 2012 trial, Melton is a high-ranking member of the Bloods street gang from New York City who ordered a 21-year-old subordinate to travel to Raleigh and kill his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Court records show Melton has a long record of felony convictions in New York, the first being a 1979 robbery committed when he was 14.

The admitted triggerman, Jamil Herring Gressett, testified that he followed Melton’s orders for fear he or his loved ones would be killed if he didn’t. The victim survived a gunshot wound.

The prosecutor in the case was Wake County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Janssen.

In a handwritten 2012 letter in the court file, Melton protested that the prosecutor had not followed proper legal procedure, citing a specific state statute.

“Prosecutor must file accuser affidavit with clerk of court ‘prior’ to seeking an indictment, this affidavit must be on file, mandatory!” Melton wrote. “The accused indictment is not legal and is rendered in-valid.”

Melton’s amateur lawyering didn’t work. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and being a habitual felon, resulting in a life sentence.

According to the FBI, a woman knocked on Frank Janssen’s door Saturday at his Wake Forest home in a quiet, upscale, golf course subdivision. Several people assaulted him and someone used a stun gun. He was then driven to Atlanta.

On Monday, his wife, Christie, started receiving a series of text messages from a mobile phone in Georgia. One of the texts said if law enforcement was contacted, “we will send (Mr. Janssen) back to you in 6 boxes and every chance we get we will take someone in your family to Italy and torture them and kill them … we will do drive by and gun down anybody.”

The messages made specific demands for the benefit of Melton, according to the FBI. Those demands were not spelled out in the court filings and authorities did not answer questions at a news conference Thursday.

A federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press that the kidnapping was an act of retaliation and that the communications of those involved suggested a link to the Bloods. The official had been briefed on the investigation.

At 12:19 a.m. Wednesday, Janssen’s wife received a text photograph of him tied up in a chair along with a message: “Tomorrow we call you again an if you can not tell me where my things are at tomorrow i will start torchering.”

At 8:20 p.m., the FBI says a call was placed by Melton from the prison to a phone associated with the kidnappers in Atlanta. The two male callers appear to be discussing how to dispose of a body:

“The first spot we are checking out is close to the house.”

“We want to make sure it’s in a secluded area and the ground is soft so we can go 3 feet deep.”

“Get a bag, put it over his head, and stuff something in his mouth.”

“However you feel like doing it, just do it.”

“Make sure to clean the area up. Don’t leave anything. Don’t leave any DNA behind.”

Following the call, authorities tried to enter Melton’s cell and he temporarily barred the door and smashed the phone. A few hours later, they located Janssen in Atlanta at the Forest Cove Apartments.

Charged with kidnapping were: Jenna Paulin Martin; Tiana Maynard; Jevante “Flame” Price; Michael “Hot” Montreal Gooden and Clifton James Roberts. Authorities also recovered a .45-caliber handgun, picks and a shovel, according to the FBI.

Those arrested appeared Thursday before a federal magistrate judge in Atlanta. They are due back in court for a bond hearing Tuesday, when they will each have a lawyer appointed by the judge.

According to prison records, Melton is being held on “maximum control” status after racking up several infractions over the past year, including being cited for possessing a weapon and twice for having a mobile phone.

In 2013, 747 mobile phones were confiscated from inmates in North Carolina’s prisons. So far this year, 166 have been seized.

Officials at the state Department of Public Safety concede many are smuggled in by prison employees bribed by inmates or their relatives. They are now investigating how Melton got the phone he allegedly used to help orchestrate the kidnapping of his prosecutor’s father.

“The department is deeply concerned about any corrupting influence by inmates against Adult Correction employees and will aggressively investigate and take action against offenders and staff involved in using cellphones to conduct criminal activity from inside prison walls,” Secretary Frank L. Perry said. “It will continue its ongoing efforts with increased intensity toward stopping contraband from entering any of its facilities.”

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Two West Siders accused of sex trafficking underage girls

A man and a woman from Chicago’s West Side are accused of the sex trafficking of two underage runaway girls in 2012, federal authorities said today.

Arnell Chase Misher, 30, and Braundii Young, also known as “Boochie”, 22, both of the 100 block of North Lockwood Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, were charged in a criminal complaint Friday with conspiring to force a 17-year-old girl and a 13-year-old girl, both runaways, to engage in commercial sex acts during the summer of 2012, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Misher appeared in court today and Young was in court Monday before judges at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. They both remain in custody and Young is scheduled to appear in court again Wednesday while Misher is slated for March 10, according to the office.

According to the complaint, the 17-year-old was approached by Misher in June 2012, at the corner of Lockwood Avenue and Fulton Street after she ran away from home. Misher told her she could make money by working for him performing sex acts with strangers.

Misher and Young bought clothing for the teen, who they nicknamed “Babyface,” styled her hair and told her the “rules of working for him.” Those rules included only engaging in sex acts with “whites and Mexicans,” and asking for $100 for sex with “dates”, though if the customer would not pay she could go lower, the complaint said.

The two posted online provocative pictures of the girl and her phone number to advertise her for sex services, according to the complaint.

The girl overheard Misher place a telephone call to Young and stated something to the effect of: “I have another girl,” the complaint said.

Misher and Young told the 17-year-old to lie about her age if she was ever arrested, according to the complaint. She worked for them for a period of two weeks, engaging in multiple commercial sex acts and turning over all the money she made to them.

The 13-year-old was also allegedly approached by Misher multiple times near Lockwood Avenue north of Washington Boulevard on the West Side after she ran away in July 2012, and he asked her to work for him performing sex acts and told her to lie about her age, the complaint said.

After the girl repeatedly turned him turn down, he allegedly “grabbed” her, threw her into his car, and gave her pills before dropping her off on near Kilpatrick Avenue and Washington Street on the West Side to start working for him, the complaint said. After “not attracting any customers,” Misher told the girl she was “scaring off” customers, the complaint said.

They told her not to accept any less than $90 for doing any sex act.

The complaint alleges her services also were advertised online and that the girl worked for them for four to six days. A little later in July, Misher confronted the 13-year-old, threatened to beat her and held her in their basement on Lockwood, telling her she “needed to contribute,” according to the complaint.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force. If convicted, Misher and Young face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

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Man Pleads Guilty To Transporting 16-Year-Old Girl

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A northern California man pleaded guilty today to transporting a minor female from San Jose, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev., to work as a prostitute during May 2013, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.

Andrew West, 27, of Hayward, Calif., who was indicted on May 29, 2013, pleaded guilty to one count of transportation of a minor for prostitution, and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 30, 2014, by U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan. West faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and will have to register as a sex offender.

“We must use maximum resources to prevent our children and youth from becoming victims to sex trafficking,” said United States Attorney Bogden. “The kids who fall victim to pimps are typically physically and emotional abused and scarred for life, and we will work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to ensure that these child exploiters who bring kids across state lines for prostitution purposes are prosecuted.”

According to the plea agreement, in early 2013, a 16-year-old female began working as a prostitute for West in Stockton and San Jose, Calif. On May 3, 2013, West, the 16-year-old girl, and others traveled in several vehicles from San Jose to Las Vegas. The 16-year-old traveled in West’s Lexus automobile, but West told the girl that he could not ride in the vehicle with her until after they arrived in Nevada, because if he were arrested he would get into more trouble for crossing state lines with her because of her age. They arrived in Las Vegas the next day, and West, the 16-year-old girl, and another male checked into a motel on the Boulder Highway. West told the girl to make money (by committing sex acts) to pay for the room. The girl walked the Boulder Highway in search of dates, and solicited separate dates with four men who she took back to the motel room. The girl earned a total of $260, part of which was provided to West after each date. The girl was arrested on May 4, 2013, when she attempted to solicit a date from an undercover Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Officer in the motel parking lot.

The case was investigated the FBI and Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, as part of the Innocence Lost Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Nicholas D. Dickinson and Phillip N. Smith, Jr.

The case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood (PSC), a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal
Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, PSC marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about PSC, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc.

Three Men from Tennessee Charged with Sex Trafficking

Granville Robinson, 25, aka Bear and HB, Duane Phillips, 28, aka P-nut, and Anthony Ellis, 25, aka Anthony Deshun Lloyd, Animal and AD, were arrested today for offenses related to their involvement in sex trafficking adult victims to New Orleans as charged in a five-count indictment dated Dec. 20, 2013, and unsealed today by Chief Judge Sarah S. Vance of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Robinson, Phillips and Ellis are from Memphis, Tenn.

According to the indictment, from May 20, 2013, until Dec. 20, 2013, Robinson, Phillips and Ellis conspired to recruit, entice, harbor and transport several adult women by means of force, threats of force, fraud and coercion in order to engage in commercial sex acts in New Orleans and elsewhere. In addition to being charged with conspiring to commit sex trafficking, Robinson and Phillips are each charged with a substantive count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and with transporting women in interstate commerce for the purpose of prostitution between May 20, 2013, and July 2, 2013.

If convicted of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, Robinson, Phillips and Ellis each face a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release. Robinson and Phillips face a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release if convicted of transportation for the purpose of prostitution.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

This case was investigated by agents from the New Orleans Field Offices of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Memphis Field Office of the FBI. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Special Litigation Counsel John Cotton Richmond and Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Civil Right Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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Antioch Police say Target employee helped find abducted girl

ANTIOCH, Calif. — Antioch Police are praising a Target Store employee in Pittsburg for helping bring a child’s kidnapping ordeal to an end.

“When I first spotted him in the store, I thought he was going to shoplift,” said 22-year-old Roxanna Ramirez.

Ramirez had no way of knowing the stranger she was watching, 43-year-old David Douglas, would later become the prime suspect in the armed abduction of a seven year old girl in Antioch.

What Ramirez noticed, was a shopper behaving suspiciously.

“He had a backpack, and he was picking things up and putting them down in the men’s department,” recalled Ramirez.

As a loss prevention specialist, it’s her job to monitor unusual behavior, so she followed Douglas for a time, even asking him is he needed help. He said no.

Then, she went to her office and watched him on surveillance cameras.

“He was fidgeting around, acting really weird, abnormal. I don’t know, it just didn’t make me feel comfortable,” Ramirez elaborated.

After he left the store, she continued to watch him remotely as he went to his car, and rifled through his backpack, occasionally leaving the car to pace and smoke, then returning.

“At one point, I saw him grab his steering wheel and start to shake it, and that was really off to me,” Ramirez noted. “That’s when I really know something was wrong with him.”

She wrote his license plate number in the little notebook she always carries, and didn’t think about it again until that night, when her girlfriend told her a child had been abducted.

“She read the description of the car, and I was like, ‘hold on’, that sounds like somebody I saw earlier at my job! It fits the same description,” said Ramirez. “I was like ‘It’s kinda weird’ and she said, ‘you should call.’”

Ramirez called the plate in, and it led to Douglas, which led to the Antioch Marina, where police have had encounters with him before. He was apprehended, and the girl reunited with her family, four hours after she was taken.

Police came to Ramirez’s door about midnight to tell her that her tip had made the difference.

“They said I helped crack the case, and my heart just dropped, like, really? I couldn’t believe it” said a still incredulous Ramirez.

“She is a true hero,” acting police Capt. Tammany Brooks told KTVU. “We at the Antioch Police Department applaud people like Roxanna Ramirez who are willing to step forward to make our community a safer place. It’s a collaborative effort.”

Ramirez said she is simply glad she could play a part in bringing the young victim to safety.

“I’m happy that she’s home, and gets to spend the rest of this time with her family because not all kidnappings end like this. It feels really good.”

And she hopes her experience encourages everyone to listen to their gut instincts. In Roxanna’s words, when something doesn’t feel right, “Run with it.”

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3 Tucson sisters imprisoned in their home

TUCSON — The two girls, ages 12 and 13, were barefoot and trembling as they pounded on a neighbor’s door shortly before 4 a.m. Tuesday. The couple inside were shocked when the girls told them they had been imprisoned in a home across the way.

A day later, that neighbor was still at a loss.

“I didn’t even know there were children living in that home,” Phillip said. He and his wife, Alice, who declined to give their last name, helped the girls calm down and then called police, though the sisters had begged them to instead phone their grandmother.

Tucson police Wednesday said three sisters — the oldest is 17 — had been confined to their bedrooms for months, where music or a static sound played at all hours and surveillance cameras were pointed at their beds 24 hours a day.

Sometimes they weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom, forced to relieve themselves in their bedroom closets, police said.

Authorities said the family moved into the Tucson neighborhood in August, but the girls said they had been imprisoned for up to two years in previous homes.

Sophia and Fernando Richter, the girls’ mother and stepfather, were taken into custody shortly after police arrived and were booked into Pima County Jail.

The stepfather, 34, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, emotional child abuse, physical child abuse and sexual abuse with a person under 15 years of age. The mother, 32, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, emotional child abuse and physical child abuse. A judge set their bail at $100,000 and $75,000, respectively. They did not enter pleas.

Phillip, the neighbor, said he and his wife opened the door only because the girls were so distraught. “They kept saying their stepfather had a knife and tried to break into their room,” he said. “They were also afraid that the mother was going to be killed by their stepfather.”

The girls, who told police they had escaped the single-story suburban home through an alarmed bedroom window, appeared unkempt and smelled of urine and body odor, Phillip said. He also said the girls were worried about their older sister because she was still in the house.

When officers responded to the Richter home, they found the 17-year-old in a locked bedroom with loud hip-hop music blaring from speakers facing the bed.

“I can tell you that the music was so loud that she had no idea what was going on around there,” Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said at a news conference Wednesday. “She was totally surprised to see police there.”

Phillip said he heard loud music whenever the couple were out but had figured they wanted to make it appear someone was home so nobody would break in.

The 17-year-old kept a satchel around her neck with a small calendar where she documented in detail the number of days she had been confined and the food she had consumed, Villaseñor said, adding that the girls were fed once or twice a day and were kept in filthy living conditions.

An elaborate alarm system had been attached to the two bedroom doors, and vents were shuttered with duct tape. The space between the bedroom doors and the floor were blocked off with some sort of cloth.

“It seemed to be a way of soundproofing the rooms,” Tucson Police Sgt. Chris Widmer said.

Villaseñor said the locks to the bedrooms were from the inside and, except for the alarm system, it appeared the girls could have opened the doors on their own.

“But something kept them from doing that,” he said. “Until you’ve been in those shoes, you really can’t understand. … I will say that they did do things that made these girls feel isolated and made real sure that they didn’t feel like they were in control.”

Villaseñor said the two bedrooms were monitored with security cameras and that the girls had to signal to the camera if they needed to use the bathroom. A parent would escort each to the bathroom and back through a hallway where a barrier blocked the view to the rest of the house.

There were also times when they were not allowed to use the bathroom, Villaseñor said. Investigators found jars of what appeared to be human waste along with piles of clothes contaminated with urine inside a closet.

Relatives never visited because they believed the family was living in San Diego, police said, noting that the mother had a cellphone number with a San Diego area code.

Villaseñor said the girls had not attended school for the last two years, though their mother said they had been home-schooled. Phillip said one of the girls told him, “We’re not allowed to go to school.” The neighbor described the girls as polite and articulate.

The three girls are in a group home for now. “We didn’t want to separate them,” Villaseñor said. “We made sure they are together.”

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Family of Kidnapped Louisiana Woman Daring Rescue

The family of a kidnapped Louisiana mother tracked down and killed the father of her child in the abandoned house where he was allegedly holding her prisoner, authorities said.

Bethany Arceneaux, 29, of Duson, La., was abducted in the parking lot of a daycare where she was picking up her 2-year-old at approximately 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department Captain Kip Judice told ABCNews.com.

Witnesses saw the suspect, Scott Thomas, allegedly force Arceneaux into his white Buick LeSabre, before driving off, Lafayette Police Department spokesman Paul Mouton told ABCNews.com.

Thomas, 29, of Leonville, La., is the father of Arceneaux’s child, Judice said. The woman had a restraining order against Thomas, but Judice said he did not know when it was filed.

The child was left behind in the woman’s car, and was later taken into custody by the woman’s mother, Mouton said.

Later that evening, law enforcement officials found Thomas’ car near an abandoned sugarcane field in a rural area of Lafayette Parish, La., Judice said.

One of Arceneaux’s shoes was found in the car, while the other had been left in the parking lot of the daycare where she had been last seen.

Authorities searched the sugarcane field Wednesday night and all day Thursday, but to no avail, Judice said. The cane towers as high as eight feet tall and was “a brutal search area” for officials, he said.

It wasn’t until Friday morning, when Arceneaux’s family members conducted their own search in the same area that they came upon a secluded, abandoned house behind a cluster of trees.

The house was directly across the street from the field where Thomas abandoned his car, but only the home’s roof was visible from the road, Judice said.

“[The family] converged on a piece of property about a mile from where the car was found,” Judice said. “One of the family members heard what he thought was a scream.”

Arceneaux’s cousin approached the home, kicked in the door in and entered, Judice said. Inside, he found Thomas with the woman. Thomas then began stabbing Arceneaux, and a confrontation ensued.

“The cousin, who was armed, began firing several shots at Thomas,” Judice said. “After a couple of shots, [Arceneaux] was able to get free of him and they escorted her out of the house.”

Arcenaux suffered several stab wounds and was taken by ambulance to Lafayette General Medical Center, where she is in stable condition, Judice said. It is not known if Arceneaux had been stabbed before her cousin found her inside the home, officials said.

Meanwhile, officers who heard the gun shots fired surrounded the home, Judice said. Upon entering, they found Thomas’ lifeless body on the ground. He had sustained several gunshot wounds.

Thomas’ cause of death is not known, Judice said. An autopsy on the body will be conducted by Lafayette Parish Coroner Ken Odinet, but it is not known when it will take place.

ABC News’ attempts to reach Odinet were not immediately successful.

Thomas did not own the abandoned home, Judice said. At this point, there is no known connection between Thomas and the property’s owners.

Arceneaux told investigators that the home was the only place she remembers being held hostage, Judice said. She said she had not eaten or drunk anything since her abduction on Wednesday.

No charges have been filed against the man who shot Thomas, and it is unlikely that the man will be charged, Judice said.

“In the state of Louisiana, you have a right to protect yourself and others from imminent bodily harm,” he said. “We believe at this point, based on evidence and statements collected, that this guy was acting in defense of Ms. Arceneaux and thus, was within the state law.”

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Police say 24 children rescued from human trafficking scheme

PALM BAY — Two dozen Orlando children younger than 18 were crammed into the back of an older model Chevrolet work van, driven to Palm Bay on Friday and dropped off to spend more than 10 hours selling cheap items door-to-door, Palm Bay police said. If they had to use the bathroom, they were told to use the bushes. If they were thirsty, to ask residents for water, police said.

Police arrested two of the men behind the operation, which authorities said provides a window into a growing trend of human trafficking: luring children and young adults with the promise of an honest wage, transporting them in often unsafe conditions and sending them off to conduct unsupervised sales in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

“They were told to sell their goods at all costs. They rounded them up and stuffed them into the back of a van, brought over from Orlando. Food, water, it was rationed. And they were told the only way they could get anything was to sell,” said Yvonne Martinez, spokeswoman for the Palm Bay Police Department.

Monday, the driver of the van and owner of an Orlando-based group called Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol, 39-year-old Johnny Carrasquillo, and 20-year-old John Saint Hilaire, 20, faced a judge on 24 counts each of human trafficking.

Brevard Judge Kathleen Clarke ordered both men, who were arrested by Palm Bay police Friday, to be held on a $5.6 million bond each at the Brevard County Jail Complex.

Both also were charged with 24 counts of child abuse and eight counts each of employing a minor child, reports show. The case will be sent to the Brevard County state attorney’s office, where prosecutors will decide whether to press formal charges.

In the Palm Bay case, the children were picked up by 9 a.m. in Orlando and driven to Palm Bay in a van so crowded that some sat on laps and on the floor. Each row of seats was separated by makeshift plywood partitions that blocked the only exit door, Martinez said.

The teens were to be picked up, after a day of sales, about 8:30 p.m. and would not get home until close to midnight, police said. Police said it was a potential tragedy in the making.

Late Friday, Palm Bay police received a message from a Department of Children and Families agent that underage children were roaming Palm Bay streets selling cheap goods.

Martinez said the children were picked up and brought to the Palm Bay Police Department, where officers contacted DCF agents and bought pizza. “We had pizza for them. They were really hungry. And they were hovering over the water fountain,” Martinez said.

The children were turned over to their parents.

Orlando company

The Orlando-based company, Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol, bills itself as a unique educational program that helps “young people from all backgrounds become more responsible citizens,” according to its website. The site featured an open letter by Carrasquillo that was dated Sept. 9. In the letter listing Carrasquillo as the executive director, he warns supporters about four former team leaders conducting unauthorized sales.

“We have notified the police of these activities and have given them the information they need to stop them, but since they are operating in hiding and they look like us, is hard for the police to intervene unless a customer calls or we run in to them,” Carrasquillo wrote.

The website also includes a parental consent form, although Palm Bay police were not sure how much parents knew about the conditions the teens worked under.

One 13-year-old dropped off in Palm Bay told officers she was frightened after someone told her a sex offender lived in the neighborhood where she was walking. “She was scared and was walking alone on her route,” Martinez said. Carrasquillo told the girl to “cross the street,” and keep selling her items, according to police.

Several other young girls told police that Carrasquillo would make them “pull their bra away from their chest and shake it to see if any money falls out,” the police report said.

Growing trend

Experts have warned over the years that door-to-door sales operations using underage children was an emerging trend of human trafficking nationwide.

In 2010, Florida State University, in conjunction with the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, released a report that showed Florida was a top hub for human trafficking in labor and sexual exploitation.

Labor trafficking was considered the most prevalent type in Florida, with abuse reported primarily in agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries.

“With sales crews, most of the victims are young adults, many of the victims are from low income settings looking for opportunities,” said Alden Pinkham, a case coordinator with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

In some cases, young adults answer ads left behind at bus or train stations to be part of door-to-door sales crews. Many of the participants see it as a chance to travel and even enhance their public-speaking capabilities, Pinkham said.

“We see a lot of fraud and coercion in the offers of that free ride. The victims begin to realize that there is no paycheck, no free ride back home, so they keep working despite the conditions. In my experience, I’ve never talked to any crew member who’s gotten a paycheck. It’s just a draw, maybe $15 a day split between others for food,” Pinkham said.

There have been a number of national stories involving “sales crews,” including cases of deadly traffic accidents, sexual assault and what police say was an attack on a teen by a resident in Volusia County. Friday, police also linked at least two of the juveniles to the theft of a golf cart.

When police located Carrasquillo, along with Saint Hilaire, they also found several teens in the van. Police said Carrasquillo said another van had been used, too.

Carrasquillo and Saint Hilaire remain in custody. No new court date has been set.

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Man pleads guilty in human trafficking case

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — A man arrested as part of a multistate kidnapping and human trafficking investigation pleaded guilty Wednesday to a charge of transporting a woman across state lines for prostitution.

Ruperto Moncillo Flores and Jacobo Feliciano-Francisco were arrested June 27 after a distraught woman walked into a police department in Hattiesburg, Miss., and said she had been abducted in Panama City Beach, Fla.

The woman had been a witness in a prior human trafficking case, which led to numerous convictions in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams said during the change of plea hearing for Flores that the victim heard her abductors call someone to take her to a “house of prostitution” in Baton Rouge, La.

Williams said Flores, of Lawrenceville, Ga., was arrested in Jones County, Miss., when his van broke down before he made it to pick up the kidnapping victim in Hattiesburg. Police were on the lookout for someone coming for the victim.

Williams said Flores had no knowledge of the abduction, but was asked to transport the woman to Louisiana for prostitution.

Another woman with Flores when he was arrested told police that Flores was taking her from Georgia to Louisiana for that purpose. It led to the charge against Flores — a violation of the Mann Act.

Flores faces up to 10 years at sentencing on Jan. 16.

Flores, a short, rotund man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair, was shackled and wore a red and white striped jail outfit during the sentencing. He needed a translator for the hearing in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg. At one point, his lawyer said Flores wanted to make sure the court understood that he was not involved in the abduction.

Williams said the abduction started an investigation into a “multistate prostitution ring and human trafficking organization.”

Feliciano-Francisco, also known as Uriel Castillo-Ochoa, is charged in U.S. District Court in Panama City, Fla., with kidnapping the former witness. He pleaded not guilty on Aug. 12 to five charges, including kidnapping and retaliating against a witness.

Another suspect is being sought in the case.

Authorities said the victim was in her yard in Florida when Feliciano-Francisco and an unidentified man forced her into a car and drove to Feliciano-Francisco’s house in Hattiesburg. Investigators say Feliciano-Francisco sexually assaulted the victim and planned to force her to work as a prostitute in Louisiana.

Williams said phone records corroborate that the abductors called Flores that day.

The kidnapping victim escaped through a bathroom window that evening and went to the Hattiesburg Police Department about 6:30 p.m.

Feliciano-Francisco was arrested at the house that night. Flores was arrested on Interstate 59 in Jones County.

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Boy held in teacher’s death that closed schools in Danvers, Massachusetts

(CNN) — A 14-year-old boy was being held on a murder charge Wednesday after the body of a female teacher was found in woods near the high school in Danvers, Massachusetts.

All seven schools in the suburban Boston town were closed as a result of the investigation.

The report of Colleen Ritzer’s death comes two days after a student with a gun killed a teacher in Sparks, Nevada.

Authorities found Ritzer’s body behind Danvers High School after the 24-year-old failed to return home after classes Tuesday, the Essex County District Attorney’s Office said. Searchers found blood in a second-floor bathroom, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told reporters at a news conference.

Colleen Ritzer, 24, was in her second year of teaching at Danvers High School, her aunt said.
He did not release the cause of her death.

The boy, who also had been reported missing Tuesday afternoon, was arrested early Wednesday after being found walking down a street, Blodgett said.

He was to be arraigned on a murder charge in a closed juvenile court session Wednesday, Blodgett said. There are no other suspects, he said.

Blodgett did not say whether the boy is a student at the school and said he could not release the boy’s name or his connection to Ritzer because he is a juvenile.

“This is a terrible tragedy for Colleen Ritzer and the entire Danvers community,” Blodgett said.

Ritzer’s aunt, Shirley Martellucci, said the family was in shock.

“We’re holding up as best we can,” she said.

Ritzer, who lived with her parents, was in her second year teaching at the school and was working on her master’s degree, Martellucci said. She had never had any trouble with students, she said.

“She always wanted to be a teacher, all her life,” Martellucci said. “It’s just unbelievable that someone would take her life at such a young age.”

Twitter users who identified themselves as Ritzer’s students were similarly dismayed.

Ritzer “was literally the sweetest, most harmless person ever,” Twitter user samanthawxo posted Wednesday. “She always wanted to help anyone in any way she could.”

“I honestly don’t think I will ever look at the high school the same knowing my favorite teacher died there,” Twitter user ingrahamsays posted.

It wasn’t immediately clear why the district closed all of its schools after the discovery of Ritzer’s body.

Danvers, a town of about 26,000 people about 20 miles northeast of Boston, has a high school, a middle school and five elementary schools.ice said. Searchers found blood in a second-floor bathroom, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told reporters at a news conference.

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