Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Runaways Forced to Have Sex

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Runaways Forced to Have Sex

Article excerpt

NVESTIGATION: Pair admit to luring underage girls into prostitution

A Bradenton woman and her boyfriend have admitted they forced runaway girls into prostitution in exchange for giving them a place to stay.

The couple advertised at least four victims, ages 15 to 17, on the Internet as "escorts." The ads falsely indicated the girls were at least 18.

Federal and Tampa Bay authorities launched an extensive investigation after one of the victims contacted police.

Neang Ty Prom, 30, of Bradenton, pleaded guilty this week to sex trafficking of minors. She faces a possible life sentence in federal prison.

Eric Antwan Bell, 38, of Tampa, previously pleaded guilty and faces the same possible fate when he is sentenced June 20.

Victim advocate groups say Florida is among the top three states in the country in human sex trafficking cases, with the average age of girl victims being 12 to 14.

Those alarming statistics prompted church and social leaders in Sarasota County last fall to launch a campaign to raise $1.5 million to create a safe refuge, to be called Selah Freedom House, for rescued sex trafficking victims.

Investigators with the FBI, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Clearwater Area Human Trafficking Task Force arrested Prom last July while serving a search warrant on Bell's Tampa home.

Bell became a fugitive featured on television's "America's Most Wanted." He was apprehended in Parsippany, N.J., in August 2011.

The plea agreements detail a sordid story that dates back to 2008.

Detectives with the Clearwater task force launched an investigation of Prom and Bell after a 15-year-old girl, a Brazilian native and legal resident of the United States, told them about two adults going by the names "Santana" and "Pocahontas."

In early November 2009, the girl met a woman named Nikki at a bus stop in Tampa. The girl told Nikki she was a runaway who wanted to return home.

Nikki made a telephone call to Santana.

Santana, later identified as Bell, arrived at the bus stop and offered to give the girl a place to stay. He took her to his home in the Highland Pine neighborhood of Tampa.

While in Bell's Buick sedan, she told Bell that she was 15. …

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