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PostPosted: Wed Apr 08, 2015 11:26 am 
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Three clients of teen prostitute convicted in plea deal
2 April 2015

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Men sentenced to one year in prison, 1200-euro fines (foto: ANSA)

(ANSA) - Rome - Three more clients of two under-age teenagers who shocked Rome by their involvement in a prostitution racket received prison sentences of a year and fines of 1200 euros each Thursday after agreeing to plead guilty, judicial sources said.

The three, convicted by Judge Maddalena Cipriani under the terms of the plea bargain arranged by their lawyers, were not immediately identified. The girls aged 14 and 15 used an apartment in the posh neighborhood of Parioli for their business. Last year the man convicted of masterminding the racket, Mirko Ieni, received a 10-year prison sentence while one of the girls' mothers received a six-year term for encouraging her daughter.

Source: ANSA.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 18, 2015 4:12 am 
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Hungarians busted in Miami male sex-slave ring
By David Ovalle
October 3, 2014

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Viktor Berki, left, and Andras Janos Vass. Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office

Three Hungarian nationals lured three young gay men to the United States only to work as “sex slaves” for up to 20 hours a day in New York City and Miami, prosecutors said Friday.

The suspected ringleaders — Gabor Acs, Viktor Berki and Andras Janos Vass — were charged in Miami-Dade state court with human trafficking and racketeering. “This case serves as a reminder that sex trafficking is not limited to any particular race, gender, age or sexual orientation,” said Alysa Erichs, the federal special agent in charge of Miami’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Acs, Berki and Vass ran a company called Never Sleep Inc. According to authorities, the ringleaders met two victims in Hungary through a website called GayRomeo.com. Another victim was “living with gypsies” as a male prostitute when he met Acs through Facebook. In 2012, the three victims — in their early 20s — were flown to New York City to work in what they believed was a legal business in the United States.

The victims “believed they would only be in New York for a few months to make tens of thousands of dollars before returning to their homeland and their families,” federal agent Melissa Pavlikowski wrote in an arrest warrant. But in New York, the young men were forced to live in a cramped one-bedroom apartment while performing sex acts around the clock, sometimes with johns, other times on live web cameras, according to the arrest warrant. Up to eight men lived and worked in the apartment.

The victims got little money, had their travel documents seized and were not allowed to leave the apartment. One man was terrified to leave after “Berki told him that he was a policeman in Hungary with a lot of contacts there which [the victim] understood to be a threat to him and his family,” the warrant said. When another victim insisted he wanted to return to Hungary, Berki said he would be “able to make them all disappear as if they never existed.”

“These individuals may have come from a different country to exploit the vulnerable but they used the same basic trafficker tools of fear and intimidation to make their profits,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. In August 2012, the group moved to Miami, where the ringleaders insisted the men would no longer be prostituting. But the operation resumed in a home in the 13300 block of Northwest Eighth Lane.

Source: Miami Herald.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2015 1:38 pm 
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Man in Hungarian gay sex-slave ring in Miami convicted of human trafficking
By David Ovalle
10 April 2015

image
Andras Vass Miami-Dade Corrections

A Hungarian national is facing up to 155 years in prison after his conviction this week for keeping young gay men as “sex-slave” prostitutes inside a North Miami-Dade home.

A jury late Thursday convicted Andras Janos Vass, 25, of human trafficking and racketeering. Prosecutors say Vass and two others ran a company called Never Sleep Inc., forcing the men to prostitute themselves for up to 20 hours a day. According to authorities, the ringleaders met two victims in Hungary through a website called GayRomeo.com. Another victim was “living with gypsies” as a male prostitute in Hungary when he met one company representative through Facebook. The three victims testified during the four-day trial in Miami-Dade. Jurors deliberated just 30 minutes.

In 2012, the company flew the three victims — in their early 20s — to New York City, where they lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment while performing sex acts around the clock, sometimes with johns, other times on live web cameras, according to the arrest warrant. Up to eight men lived and worked in the apartment. Jurors heard that the ringleaders took their travel documents and threatened them and their families back in Hungary if they refused to work. In August 2012, the group moved their operation to Miami-Dade. Defendants Gabor Acs and Viktor Berki, a former policeman in Hungary, are still awaiting trial.

Vass faces a minimum of 21 years in prison. He will be sentenced June 2 before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Richard Hersch.

Source: Miami Herald.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 26, 2015 6:26 pm 
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Roma mothers nabbed for inducing daughters into prostitution
15 April 2015

Follonica, Grosseto, Italy (ANSA) - Italian paramilitary Carabinieri police arrested two Roma women Wednesday on charges of forcing their under-age daughters to follow them into prostitution, police sources said.

The Florence public prosecutor's office launched a probe into the women aged 39 and 36 after a police patrol surprised the underage daughter of one of the two having sex with a 54-year-old man in a car in an isolated area normally frequented by sex workers, said the sources.

The women lived with their daughters in a caravan at a travellers' camp in Follonica in the Tuscan province of Grosseto. Investigators discovered that the two adults offered sex for sale outside supermarkets and commercial centres in Follonica and then induced their daughters and a third Rom minor into prostitution.

Source: ANSA.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 05, 2015 8:54 pm 
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China shuts down matchmaking sites
18 May 2015

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China shuts down matchmaking sites - © Uwe Zucchi, dpa

Beijing (dpa) - China's internet regulator has closed down 128 online dating sites suspected of violating laws related to prostitution and pornography, Xinhua news agency said Monday.

The websites were shut down for allegations including organized prostitution, fraud and disseminating pornographic images, according to a statement released on the website of the Cyberspace Administration of China Sunday.

"To curb the phenomenon of dishonesty on dating websites, the purpose of this regulation work is to protect citizens' lawful rights and interests," the statement cited a "relevant official" from the Cyberspace Administration as saying. Some of the websites were also accused of failing to enforce controversial 2012 regulations requiring internet users to give their real names and national identification numbers to register for some websites. Some dating websites the administration listed as flouting regulations, such as City Dating, were inaccessible on Monday.

Last year China closed nearly 1.8 million social networking and instant messaging accounts in a crackdown on prostitution and pornography, according to state media. Chinese internet users have poked fun and expressed doubts about the intentions behind the crackdown, with critics alleging that campaigns purporting to safeguard moral standards and related laws are a pretext for political censorship.

Source: dpa.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 08, 2015 11:11 pm 
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Priest nabbed in Roma underage prostitution probe
21 May 2015

(ANSA) - Rome - A parish priest was one of those arrested in a probe into an underage Roma prostitution ring at Rome's Termini Station Thursday.

The cleric, 68, was found with a large quantity of kiddy porn, police said. Earlier seven arrests were reported in the probe into a ring that allegedly employed Romani minors aged 14-17 for sex work in Termini bathrooms and other locations around the central station.

Well-known professional people were said to be among the clients, aged 35 to 80, who paid 20-50 euros per sex act.

Source: ANSA.

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 06, 2015 3:02 pm 
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Spanish police dismantle voodoo-linked sex trafficking ring
June 8, 2015

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A woman at the bar of the night club "Le Dallas" at La Jonquera in Spain near the French border in 2010 (AFP Photo/Raymond Roig)

Madrid (AFP) - Spanish police said Monday they had dismantled a trafficking ring they said used voodoo rituals -- including animal sacrifice -- to force Nigerian women into prostitution in Spain.

Six traffickers were arrested and four of the victims freed, police said in a statement. The women, who came to Europe on dangerous, makeshift boats, were recruited in Nigeria, where they were enticed with false promises of employment. But once they arrived in places like the Spanish holiday island of Mallorca, they were forced into prostitution.

Authorities said the traffickers attempted to keep the women submissive by performing "tribal rituals" in Nigeria that sometimes involved "animal sacrifice". They used the women's nail clippings and locks of hair to convince them that they had been placed under a spell "so they would do everything asked of them, under the threat of death to them or their family", police said.

The women had travelled across northern Africa to get to Spain illegally, making the arduous journey on foot and then by boat. But after arriving, they were swept into the sex trafficking world, and threatened with voodoo from Nigeria. "Women take on a debt up to 50,000 euros ($56,000), and swear obedience to a 'madam' and traffickers," police said.

Source: Yahoo! AFP.

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 03, 2015 11:20 pm 
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Turkey swinger suspects risk up to 177 years in jail
3 August 2015

Istanbul (AFP) - Turkish prosecutors have demanded jail sentences of up to 177 years for 29 people in the southeastern province of Adana suspected of setting up swingers' clubs, local media reported Monday.

Turkish police arrested 53 people in May on suspicion of pimping and prostitution in raids on 25 addresses in five provinces across the south and southeast, after receiving reports that patrons of swinger clubs were bringing prostitutes to the sex parties. Of the 53 people taken in for questioning, 29 were brought to court to face charges, with 15 placed under arrest and others released pending trial.

The suspects are facing jail terms ranging from three to 177 years each for "setting up a criminal organisation with the aim of engaging in criminal activity," "prostitution," "human trafficking" and "obscenity," Dogan news agency reported.

Dogan said that the ringleader couple -- a 25-year-old university student and his girlfriend -- initially used social media to organise wife-swapping parties for married couples free of charge. They later rented a luxury villa to host customers, including single men "who do not want to randomly hire prostitutes" from the neighbouring provinces of Mersin, Kayseri, Osmaniye and Sanliurfa.

The couple, who did not accept customers from Adana for security reasons, charged the single men 1,000 Turkish Liras ($360 dollars, or 328 euros) for each swingers' party, Dogan said. The suspects include a married woman, who told the police she accepted money for sex -- with her husband's blessing -- in order to support her destitute father.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 09, 2015 10:42 am 
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Italian cops nab Chinese woman who prostituted daughter
6 August 2015

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Riccione, Italy (ANSA) - Carabinieri on Thursday arrested a 35-year-old Chinese woman who allegedly made her daughter work as a prostitute out of her massage parlor in the seaside resort of Riccione.

The constant comings and goings as well as the late-night working hours at the Oriental Delights massage parlor aroused the suspicions of local residents, who alerted police. A dawn raid caught a working girl and a john in the act of getting dressed, police said.

Police also seized several thousand euros in cash and a list of clients who requested a "happy ending".

Source: ANSA

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 23, 2015 8:29 pm 
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Trafficked teens 'forced to pay to walk the streets'
21 August 2015

Rome (ANSA) - Nigerian teenagers forced to prostitute themselves in Italy are being made to pay hundreds of euros in 'rent' to walk the streets, according to a Save the Children report released on Friday.

The report titled Young Invisible Slaves found that women and girls are being forced to pay between 100 and 250 euros to work as prostitutes along the roads of Italy's largest cities. Most are adolescents who have made the journey from Nigeria through Niger, Libya and then across the Mediterranean. Nearly all are in search of a better life and have been convinced by "sponsors" - who accompany the girls to their destination country - that they can achieve their dream of becoming a model, hairdresser or babysitter in Europe.

The exploitation of many of the girls begins before they arrive in Europe. Save the Children said some are locked in guest houses in Libya, where they are forced into prostitution for months before attempting the journey to Italy. Those that eventually make the crossing by sea usually travel to Naples, where the buying and selling of girls that don't already have a fixed destination takes place. For girls arriving by plane, their destination is normally Turin.

It is then standard practice for the girls to be delivered to a Nigerian woman living locally who will take charge of their exploitation, establishing when and where they must prostitute themselves in order to pay off the debt incurred by their families for their journey to Europe. The figure is usually between 30-60,000 euros, typically binding the girls into prostitution for 3-7 years. Physical and psychological violence is often used to quell any signs of rebellion.

"The exploitation of these teenagers and the constraints forced upon them are so intense that it makes it difficult for them to leave the trafficking circuit," said Carlotta Bellini of Save the Children Italy. "We need to strengthen the network of 'safe houses', which is one of the main tools we have to protect victims of trafficking, and to curb trafficking in their countries of origin and in Italy through the use of street units. "It is also fundamental to adopt the National Plan of Action against human trafficking, which includes specific funds for the support of child victims of trafficking."

Source: ANSA

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 5:21 pm 
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More Than 1,000 Pimps and Johns Arrested in Nationwide Prostitution Sting
by Charlotte Alter
September 3, 2015

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A coalition of dozens of law enforcement agencies arrested more than 1,000 pimps and sex buyers in a summer-long series of prostitution stings.

The months-long annual sting, now known as the National Johns Suppression Initiative, was led by Sheriff Tom Dart of Cook County, Il. A total of 39 law enforcement agencies across 18 states arrested 961 men trying to buy sex and 71 pimps or traffickers, more than in any of his previous stings.

About two-fifths of the arrests stemmed from online prostitution ads, and 98% of those ads were placed on Backpage.com, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office. In the four years since the annual sting began, more than 4,000 sex buyers and traffickers have been arrested (it used to be called the National Day of Johns).

“This broad national movement should send a strong message to prospective johns that sex trafficking simply is not a victimless crime,” said Sheriff Dart in a statement. “These women and girls have been brutalized and exploited – and the most effective way to deter these heinous crimes is to target the demand.”

The Cook County Sheriff’s office has repeatedly attacked Backpage.com as a haven for pimps and traffickers, and earlier this summer asked Visa and Mastercard to withdraw their credit cards as a form of payment on the site. Backpage.com won a temporary restraining order against Sheriff Dart in July, but in August a judge denied an injunction request that would have forced Dart to retract his statements about the website, concluding that Dart’s requests to Visa and Mastercard did not count as censorship. Backpage.com did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Occasionally, officers encountered children while carrying out the stings. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man who was attempting to buy sex with his 2-year old daughter in the car, and the St Paul, Mn. police department arrested a trafficker who was holding his victim’s 3-year old son in order to keep her from going to the police. Dayton, Oh. police recovered a 15-year old runaway who they said was being prostituted on Backpage.com.

Source: TIME.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 26, 2015 3:19 pm 
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Cops bust voodoo prostitution ring in Italy
20 October 2015

Bari, Italy (ANSA) - Italian police have arrested four Nigerian asylum seekers in Italy who are accused of using voodoo rituals to manipulate young women they trafficked and forced into prostitution, sources said Tuesday.

The suspects were named as ringleader Joy Jhon, 30, her boyfriend Nosa Amen, 27, Sylvester Imadi, 24, and Confidence Ogbeide Oriaifo, 25. They may face charges of enslavement as well as abetting prostitution and illegal immigration.

Police uncovered the sex trafficking ring after a priest helped one of the young women escape the prostitution circuit near the city of Bari in southern Italy. The witness told police she had been forced to work as a street walker by the ring along with four other young women, who were recruited from Nigerian villages with the promise of a better life.

Once chosen in Nigeria, they were made to undergo a voodoo ritual and encouraged into prostitution before they arrived in Europe. Here, each young woman reportedly earned the ringleader 800 euros a week. The witness was rescued during the sea crossing to Italy, where she was taken to a migrant reception centre. At this point she could have escaped, but the voodoo ritual had incapacitated her psychologically and bound her to the group, she told police.

Source: ANSA

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2015 8:24 pm 
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Mussolini's husband gets one-year term for teen prostitution
22 October 2015

Rome (ANSA) - The husband of prominent Forza Italia (FI) politician Alessandra Mussolini on Thursday plea-bargained a one-year jail term for using an underage prostitute.

Mauro Floriani was also fined 1,800 euros for being a client of two teen prostitutes working out of an apartment in the upscale Parioli neighborhood. Floriani's sentence was suspended, as is routine for all custodial terms of two years or less.

Wiretaps last year revealed Floriani was one of the clients who contacted the girls most often. Floriani, a former finance police officer, is a manager at State-controlled national rail company Trenitalia. He has three children with his wife, who is the granddaughter of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and has recently served as chair of a parliamentary children's rights committee.

Eight ringleaders of the teen bordello have already been convicted. These include barman and pimp Mirko Ieni, who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Army Corporal Major Nunzio Pizzacalla got seven years and the mother of one of the teens was sentenced to six years and loss of parental rights. Eleven clients have so far plea-bargained a year in prison, while 30 others have been probed.

Source: ANSA

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PostPosted: Mon Nov 09, 2015 5:53 pm 
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Voodoo prostitute slavery ring busted in Italy
5 November 2015

Milan, Italy (ANSA) - Italian police on Thursday arrested four Nigerians on charges of exploiting prostitution in the province of Milan.

The suspects operated in Italy and Nigeria, where they allegedly enslaved their victims using modified voodoo rites before bringing them to Italy by boat on the migrant route from Libya to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. They now face possible charges of human trafficking and reduction into slavery.

Investigators identified at least nine victims, who were made to prostitute themselves on a local road in Carpiano until they had paid off a debt bond of up to 70,000 euros. Four of the victims are now living in special communities for victims of human trafficking.

Source: ANSA

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2015 1:46 pm 
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Bartered sex, corruption and cover-ups behind bars in nation’s largest women’s prison
By Julie K. Brown, Emily Michot
13 December 2015

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Casey Hodge stepped from the prison van, trembling under the weight of her thick handcuffs and leg shackles.

The slight 25-year-old was led with a group of other women into a small room and ordered to strip naked. “Show me your pink,” said a female corrections officer, instructing her to squat and cough so that they could peer between her legs and certify that she wasn’t concealing anything.

Hodge, who has been legally blind since she was 16, then was told to remove her glass eye. “They wanted to make sure I wasn’t hiding anything in my socket,’’ she remembers. So she pulled it out with her fingers. The officers nearly fell off their chairs, she said, mocking her like children and pretending to vomit. “I felt like I was a kid, being bullied all over again,” said Hodge, who had never been in trouble with the law before her arrest on drug trafficking charges in 2012.

Hodge once dreamed of growing up to be a photographer. Now she was inmate No. 155778, sentenced to three years to be served at Lowell Correctional Institution, a state prison that houses the five women on Florida’s Death Row — and has the distinction of being the largest women’s prison in the United States.

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Casey Hodge, a former inmate at Lowell Correctional Institution, says she was forced to perform sex acts with a corrections officer at Lowell and that he mailed her sexually explicit letters while she was an inmate. Emily Michot / emichot@miamiherald.com

With 2,696 inmates in a sprawling maze of drab gray, un-airconditioned buildings, the institution sits amid rolling green hills and pristine thoroughbred horse farms in Central Florida. But the women who have done time here say Lowell’s quiet veneer belies the corruption, torment and sexual abuse within.

They say that over the past decade, the abuse has become intolerable. Documents show inmates have complained that officers from the Florida Department of Corrections spit in their faces, threaten to slam them into concrete and call them whores, bitches and porch monkeys. They say male prison staffers tramp through the showers, make them flash their breasts on a whim and force them to beg for basic necessities, like toilet paper, soap and sanitary napkins.

But perhaps the worst indignity of all, women say, is that the officers — both male and female — use their positions of power to pressure inmates to have sex and to perform indecent acts. Women alleged in complaints, filed between 2011 and May 2015, that the sex happens in bathrooms, closets, the laundry and officers’ stations. Sometimes officers go into dorms in the middle of the night, taking women to isolated areas of the prison, they say.

Many women comply because they feel they have no choice; others call it a matter of survival. At Lowell, inmates say, those who yield to the officers’ demands are often shielded from abuse. They can be rewarded with soap and sanitary pads, cigarettes, drugs and money. They get free-world food, like cheeseburgers, or meager feminine accoutrements that make them feel more human, such as makeup and perfume.

The inmates who don’t comply with officers’ demands, however, say they are harassed and humiliated; they forfeit plum job and bunk assignments. Often, they are threatened with “confinement” — a separation from the general population that isolates them and tests their sanity. They can also lose their belongings, and the privilege of visits from their families.

In a statement, Julie Jones, secretary for the Department of Corrections, acknowledged that prior to her taking over the department in January, Lowell was “poorly managed’’ and lacked proper leadership. She replaced the warden, fired an assistant warden and hired more than 100 new officers. In recent months, she has made policy changes and says that officers are now being held accountable.

The new warden, Angela Gordon, and other FDC officials contend that the alleged abuse — physical, mental and sexual — is not as widespread as inmates suggest. Prisoners, they say, tend to lie and manipulate to get officers in trouble or to get something they want.

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Angela Gordon, brought in to make improvements at Lowell Correctional, says the facility runs on rules that must be obeyed, but denied it is a ‘hellhole.’ Emily Michot / emichot@miamiherald.com

“Yes some of them lie sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that they lie all the time,” said Marion County Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway. Ridgway said there is clearly sexual activity happening at Lowell “akin to prostitution,” but gauging how rampant it is can be difficult because much of the sex is consensual. But that doesn’t mean a crime hasn’t been committed, he said. It is a third-degree felony for an officer to have sex with an inmate. Ridgway said he doesn’t have enough staff to investigate Lowell because the problems — and the prison itself — are too vast. “Some of these issues and complaints are well founded, and there are things that are happening that clearly are illegal and should not have happened,” the prosecutor said.

Aaron Johnson, a Vero Beach attorney who has represented Lowell inmates, said that consent, or lack thereof, is difficult to define when guards control every aspect of a woman’s life. “What I saw was that some of the girls were truly victims of rape and sexual assault and battery. I believed them when they told me it was unsolicited, uninvited and a nightmare,” he said.

Nancy G. Abudu, legal director for the ACLU of Florida, said the organization has interviewed several women from Lowell over the past few months who allege that they have been “coerced” to have sex through threats and intimidation. “We are looking into whether these allegations are not only a violation of civil rights, but an international violation of human rights,’’ she said. “The so-called punishment for an officer who rapes an inmate is to get transferred to another facility. Florida’s prisons allow officers to rape women in prison because the inmates aren’t considered to have any rights,” she said.

For Hodge, having to squat naked and pluck out her eye was nothing compared with what would follow. In a formal statement she gave to the Florida Department of Corrections’ inspector general, she alleged that in 2013 she was tormented by a sergeant who stalked her on the compound, sent her long, sexually explicit letters and pressured her into having sex by threatening to put her into confinement and extend her prison stay through loss of gain time — time off for good behavior. “We are nothing but animals to them,” said Hodge, who filed the complaint against the sergeant, William Oellrich, in September 2013. It was dismissed as unfounded over a year later, in December 2014. Seven months later, Oellrich was transferred to Marion Correctional Institution, a men’s prison about a mile from Lowell. “They think they are God. I did drugs, I absolutely made wrong choices in my life. But what they are doing in that prison goes beyond punishment.”

Complaints and confinement

    “They come up and handcuff you. Then they say something like, ‘I found this razor blade in your stuff’ and you say ‘that’s not mine’ and they say ‘well, it is now’; or they say ‘oh, you spit on me’ and I say ‘what are you talking about?’ and they say ‘do you know that that is assault? You’re going to do a year and a half in confinement unless you do what I want you to do,’ ” — former inmate Ginjer Ullman

The Miami Herald reviewed hundreds of pages of Lowell records and, over the course of the past year, interviewed more than 30 Lowell inmates — current prisoners, as well as former ones across the state. It examined four years’ worth of inmate complaints; a decade of misconduct allegations filed against wardens, assistant wardens, chaplains, instructors and medical staff. It pored over officer personnel files, inmate histories and criminal records, as well as prison health and safety reports and audits of Lowell’s medical facilities. It also analyzed a trove of letters and emails from women and their families, many alleging sexual, physical and mental abuse at the prison.

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The records and interviews suggest that the agency has for years ignored, covered up or dismissed allegations of corruption involving every corner of Lowell — from the chapel and food service to the former assistant warden’s office. The women described a system of flagrant sexual extortion, intertwined with habitual and illegal smuggling of drugs, tobacco and other contraband; excessive force against inmates for minor infractions such as talking in the chow hall — and a long history of officers forcing women to perform degrading acts.

Complaints allege that officers ordered a blind woman to “read” a Bible in front of fellow prisoners while laughing at her; encouraged women to participate in “breast measuring” and tattoo-examining contests; and just this year scribbled two inmates’ faces with yellow highlighter because they were talking in a hallway in Visitation Park, which is where inmates meet their families.

Records show, in recent years, officers forced one inmate to quack like a duck, and another to do bear crawls from the chow hall to her dorm. One sergeant, while ordering the women to form a line, announced, “Let’s take the Jews to the ovens,” a report alleged.

The yearlong investigation found that nearly every time an inmate filed a complaint, she was forced into some form of confinement, ostensibly for her own protection. Wo men in confinement are restricted to a 10-by-12 cell, with the clothes on their back and, if they are lucky, a few possessions. They get fewer showers and are likely to miss any classes they have signed up for. Inmates in confinement also say they sometimes don’t receive prescribed medication.

Julie Jones, the FDC secretary, was not available to be interviewed for this story because of a family illness, said spokesman McKinley Lewis. He did provide a list of policy changes, which include new guidelines for all prisons in the use of force, better mental health treatment for inmates and more training for corrections officers.

In an interview in May, Warden Gordon acknowledged that the prison had some “problems” but said it is now on the right track. “Do we have bad apples? I’m sure we do. Every organization does, but we’re stressing it’s not something we’re going to tolerate,” Gordon said, explaining: “I’ve tasked officers with looking at themselves in the mirror every day and asking: ‘Am I doing all that I can?’ ”

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Gordon, a 20-year veteran of the department who previously worked in male prisons, said Lowell is a challenge because women prisoners have different needs than men. A greater portion of Lowell’s inmates require extensive medical and psychological care; the women often have histories of physical and sexual abuse, as well as problems with addiction. The warden said Lowell has initiated new programs to help them feel closer to their children and families and to better prepare them for life after prison. “Our goal is to make them better citizens when they get out. Do you want someone we’ve given an opportunity to improve themselves, or do you want someone who has been mistreated and locked away and not given any room for improvement?”

But women interviewed for this story, including some released this year, say violent abuses — and sheer degradation — persist. Those who have seen the popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black say their treatment makes Litchfield Penitentiary, the fictional women’s federal prison, look like a women’s country club.

“I know that I’m in here for a reason,” said Theresa Livengood, 67, who gets around in a wheelchair while serving life at Lowell for killing her father. “But the officers threaten you — they say ‘I can bring in the boys and tear up your stuff’ — which means they take everything they can. They say, ‘Do you want to eat concrete?’ There is no accountability, they don’t answer to anybody, and it gets worse every day.”

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Told that Lowell has instituted reforms, Theresa Livengood, serving life for killing her father, said: “If you want to believe that, go ahead. I don’t live in fantasyland.” Emily Michot / emichot@miamiherald.com

Said another current inmate: “I’m serving 25 years in prison. There is nothing more that anyone can do to me except treat me like an animal, like they do. They put me in confinement, they take away my right to see my child. They mess with my mail, make us plead for hygiene items. We aren’t women in here; we are pieces of crap they scrape off their boots.”

Despite the fear of being placed in confinement, some inmates do file complaints of sexual abuse. FDC records show that in 2013, 2014 and the first nine months of 2015, Lowell logged 137 allegations of staff sexual misconduct and 14 allegations of staff sexual harassment toward prisoners. The department sustained just one — although Lewis, the FDC spokesman, said “many” are still under investigation.

Under standards set by PREA, the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, the state is required to keep track of sexual assaults and adhere to strict goals for detecting and preventing sexual abuse. “Last year, Florida was one of only six states that rejected PREA — a shameful decision given the state’s appalling record on preventing rape in its facilities,” said Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, spokesman for Just Detention International, a health and human rights organization working to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention. Florida finally went along with the standards this year, he said.

Reports from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show that Lowell inmates reported slightly higher sexual abuse rates than the national average. The 2010 report found that 4.5 percent of inmates at Lowell reported being sexually abused — by either staff or inmates — within the previous 12 months.

But those numbers don’t tell the full story. Many women say they never report sexual abuse because those who do are punished in insidious ways. “If you report you are raped, you sit in a 10-by-12 cell with nothing but your uniform, and they close the door,” said former inmate Crystal Harper, who contends she spent months in isolation after reporting officer sexual misconduct. “They put you under investigation, they say for your own safety, then they leave you there until you write up a witness statement that it never happened.”

In the past decade, the Marion County prosecutor’s office, which has jurisdiction over the prison, has brought charges against two officers for sexual misconduct. Both pleaded guilty to lesser charges and served less than a year in jail.

Prosecutors say that without hard evidence, such as DNA or damning video footage, proving officer misconduct can be impossible. The prison has no cameras in its dorms, and few other areas, except for the confinement units, are equipped with working surveillance equipment. Additional cameras have been ordered and are scheduled to be installed, according to FDC.

But it is often the woman’s word against the officer’s — and witnesses can be pressured to keep quiet, inmates say. “The harsh reality is if an inmate says ‘an officer has sex with me’ and that’s all you’ve got, you don’t have a prayer. For many Lowell inmates, it’s something they are not forced into doing. It’s consensual, which doesn’t make it legal, but they say, ‘Hey I get better food, I get cellphones,’ so essentially they make a trade,” Ric Ridgway, the prosecutor, said.

Crisis foreshadowed

    “I have a daughter that was beaten, abused, neglected and left in solitary for 16 months with bare minimal necessities. She had a hood pulled over her head while she was beaten. . . . She will be getting out in a couple of weeks and I don’t want anything to happen to her. She has three young children to raise. They miss her so much.” — a mother of a Lowell inmate, writing to the Herald on Sept. 15, 2015

Florida has the third-largest prison population in the nation and incarcerates more women than any other state, except Texas, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. No women’s prison in Texas, however, is larger than Lowell, which earlier this year surpassed the Central California Women’s Facility as the largest women’s prison in the nation. Most women in Florida prisons are serving time for nonviolent crime, and more than half of them are mothers of minor children. They generally serve shorter sentences than men, meaning that they require education, vocational training, rehabilitation and other programs to successfully transition to life after prison.

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Florida historically has failed to provide adequate re-entry programs for Lowell inmates, evidenced by two reviews, one in 2006 and another just this year. In 2006, under the reform-minded leadership of Secretary James McDonough, a retired Army colonel, the FDC commissioned a wide-ranging external review of the prison system. One prison stood out: Lowell. The survey team from MGT of America, a national consulting firm that evaluates prison systems, devoted an entire chapter to the facility, something it did with no other prison.

The study said that programming to keep inmates engaged and train them for life after prison was so lacking that it created an almost perfect storm of problems, including “unprofessional and demeaning interaction between staff and inmates.” It also said that the prison’s medical care was “totally inadequate” and that the institution had far too many “psych III” inmates — those on psychotropic drugs.

The FDC was advised at that time to take immediate steps to reduce “over-familiarity” between guards and inmates. The report said the institution not only failed to discourage sexual relationships between officers and inmates, but institutional staff members went out of their way to thwart investigations. “It’s a culture of corruption, and even the good staff look the other way,” said Laura Bedard, who was FDC’s deputy secretary at the time of the 2006 survey. The report was so alarming that she agreed to step down briefly and become Lowell’s acting warden in an effort to reform the institution.

Nine years later, Lowell, which consists of three facilities — the main unit, the annex and a work camp — spends 46 percent less per inmate on healthcare and 36 percent less on education. The “psych III” inmate population has climbed from 41 percent to 50 percent.

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The FDC said that since the first of July, 52 inmates at Lowell have received their high school equivalencies and 80 have received vocation certificates. But a just-completed audit showed that only 14 percent of Florida’s 100,000 inmates get any educational or vocational instruction or substance abuse treatment.

Women say that while Lowell does offer some education and vocational programs, space is limited and access often depends on an inmate’s connections. “You are paying your debt to society, but it doesn’t end there,” said former inmate Kat Jones, who spent 16 years in prison for grand theft and credit card fraud. “The officers, they are above the law, they dehumanize you and you lose hope. A lot of women come out of prison and sell themselves short, they continue to do drugs and are not rehabilitated.”

Bedard, considered an expert who has published and lectured about women’s prisons, said during her tenure that she fired or forced dozens of officers to resign for misconduct. But within two years, she and McDonough had moved on and practically all the jettisoned staff eventually had their jobs back.

State law makes it difficult to fire corrections officers who, like police officers, are sworn law enforcement officers protected under Florida’s Chapter 112, known as the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. The law, passed by the state Legislature, gives officers the ability to challenge any discipline, suspension or dismissal if the investigation does not follow very precise rules. Nonetheless, Julie Jones, the new secretary, has fired 924 FDC employees, 19 of them at Lowell. There have been three demotions, three suspensions and 43 written reprimands of Lowell employees since January, according to FDC.

The department’s regional directors, those above the wardens, have been required to reapply for their jobs. Still, many veteran wardens and regional directors remain in charge.

Critics say the biggest roadblock to cleaning up the agency is that it polices itself. The watchdogs charged with investigating officer misconduct came up through the system and work for the system. “It’s a huge agency with a lot of eye-winking going on,’’ said Bedard, who now works for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department. “Julie Jones has her heart in the right place, but you can’t surround yourself with people engrained in that culture. Change the culture first, then you can change the corruption.”

‘A lot of hatred’

    “The bad things happen when nobody sees. They can do a lot to me that you cannot stop. I wish I could speak out loud and save everyone from this hell, but I’m not risking my sanity.’’ — a current inmate who is too afraid to have the Herald publish her name

Julie Jones told the Herald that there would be no repercussions against women who gave interviews to the Herald, but some inmates believe that even Jones can’t protect them from powerful corrections officers.

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Julie Vanduesen says it disgusts her when corrections officers show off family photos then have sex with the inmates. Emily Michot / emichot@miamiherald.com

“There’s a lot of hatred in this prison, and it’s not the inmates — it’s the staff,” said Julie Vanduesen, 51, who is serving 40 years for second-degree murder. “It doesn’t matter how many people you put in [administration] — you can rotate people, fire people, but it’s still going to be the same compound. You have to take this place and shake it upside-down or bring the feds in to make this place right.”

Vanduesen said she watches younger, more attractive women manipulate officers to get what they want, and the officers, many of whom are married, use their power to also get what they want. She said she finds it disgusting how the officers show them photographs of their wives and children only to turn around and have affairs with inmates. “The sex on this compound is unbelievable, that’s all I’m saying. I look at these women and just shake my head. I can’t believe you are doing it, and it’s all for cigarettes and makeup,” she said.

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After Betty Riddle complained — and was wired by investigators — the corrections officer who sexually attacked her was arrested and went to jail. It was a rare outcome. FDC

Some women, however, say they do it for protection as much as privileges; an inmate who becomes the “girlfriend” of a high-ranking officer — such as a warden — is almost untouchable. “For some, sex is the only commodity these inmates can bargain with,” said Johnson, the Vero Beach attorney who filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Lowell inmate in 2009.

Johnson said his client, inmate Betty Riddle, was sexually assaulted by a Lowell officer in 2005 and 2007, and her complaints were ignored by the Department of Corrections. Riddle, then 27, said she was threatened by the officer, Troy Saunders, 41, who told her she would be placed in confinement if she reported the assaults. She reported them anyway, and prison inspectors investigated, setting her up with a recording device for her next encounter with the officer. When they met, Saunders initiated sex and she resisted, according to the lawsuit, but he forced himself on her. Inexplicably, the prison inspectors failed to stop him. FDC settled the civil case, and Saunders was criminally prosecuted. He spent less than a year in the county jail.

Cont'd...

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