A hidden and scary side of the Tampa Bay sex industry is set to unfold in court today, as a Treasure Island man goes on trial, charged with raping a young woman and forcing her into prostitution at a St. Petersburg strip club.
The woman said her captors raped her even though she was pregnant, forced her to service men in the "VIP room" of a strip club and calmed her with drugs.
She says she was too scared to escape. But one day, by chance, she was able to call her father when no one else was listening:
"I said to my dad, 'Vegas Showgirls on Gandy, I'll be there 'til 2 a.m., come save me please.' "
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Unless there is a last-minute change, 37-year-old Colin Anthony Dyer goes on trial this morning on charges of sexual battery on one woman, and human trafficking of her and another. He was one of four arrested last year in what the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office described as a sex trafficking ring.
Authorities at the time said Dyer's co-defendant, Kenyatta Cornelous, was the ringleader of a group that lured in young women, impressed them with a $600,000 house the men were renting in Treasure Island, and forced them into prostitution. Dyer is the first to come to trial. Cornelous' trial date has not been set.
The alleged victim of the rape is a woman who was older than 18 but under 21. Her name and exact age are not listed in court records.
She told attorneys in April that she was working as an exotic dancer in February 2009 and needed to move out of her apartment. She heard that a man named Kenyatta Cornelous "helped out girls that were down on their luck."
After several conversations with Cornelous, she also met Dyer, whom she called his "wing man." The men helped her sublet an apartment near 49th Street in St. Petersburg. She also visited Cornelous' house in Treasure Island, where there were several other women who appeared to be living with him.
Later, she said, Cornelous told her he could get her a job at Vegas Showgirls, 10570 Gandy Blvd. N, near St. Petersburg. It had more customers than the club where she was working at the time, "So I figured I'd give it a try."
Then, according to records, Cornelous explained the deal to her: "He was my, quote-unquote, 'Daddy.' I worked for him now. I would be working at the club six nights a week for 12- to 14-hour shifts. He explained to me the way that the VIP room works, like $275 for half an hour. You have to do whatever the gentleman requests, whether it's having sexual intercourse or just oral intercourse, whatever they want, they pay for it. The club supplies, you know, condoms and things like that, towels and stuff."
Chip Jones, manager of Vegas Showgirls, denied last week that there had been any prostitution in the club, and said the charges against Dyer, Cornelous and the others, "had nothing to do with us."
"There was never nothing done inside here," he said.
The woman said she also would have to give sex to Cornelous and his cohorts. "Pretty much they owned me."
Cornelous also told her Dyer "was my Uncle C and he would be taking care of me … until I was broken in or whatever," she said.
She was "incredulous," but she says they gave her a drink and she blacked out. When she awoke, she said she found tears and bleeding on parts of her body that indicated to her she had been raped. There was no way to get to a doctor. Ultimately, she says she lost her baby — she was in the first trimester.
The men, including Dyer, also gave her little blue pills — oxycodone — for the pain, she said. She ended up getting addicted.
She also said some of the men got angry one night and, "Kenyatta took me back in the bedroom of the Treasure Island house in the master bedroom and raped (another woman) and I." Another night, she said, Cornelous ordered her to give oral sex to Dyer. Another time, she said, Dyer raped her.
One night, she says, she and another woman started screaming "we're being kidnapped" and "help us." She says Dyer stopped them, at one point shutting the door on the other woman's finger.
Her break came when Cornelous needed her to get some new identification, which meant she had to call her father. She says Cornelous gave her a script of what to say, and watched closely as she made the call.
But another woman started "throwing a fit" about something, which distracted Cornelous, and gave her the chance to tell her father to "come save me."
She told him, "bring some money so you can pretend you're a customer."
So that night, she said, her father arrived at Vegas Showgirls as planned, acting like a customer, and said he was going to get her away from the club.
But she was worried about Cornelous. She told her father, "I'm scared that he's going to kill me."
They left anyway. "I didn't even get dressed, I didn't even put my street clothes on, I walked out of there with the bikini on and my 8-inch clear heels … and my dad was holding my hand, pulling me out the whole time."
When bouncers rushed out of the club and tried to stop them, she says her father told them: "This is my daughter. … If you try to stop us, I'll kill you."
And she escaped.
Jury selection in Dyer's case is scheduled to begin this morning.