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Man found not guilty in Pinellas human trafficking case

LARGO — A man charged in a high-profile human trafficking case was found not guilty of all charges late Thursday night.

Colin Anthony Dyer shouted "We won!" as he left the courtroom shortly after 11 p.m. He was set to be released from the Pinellas County Jail later in the night. Had he been convicted, Dyer would have faced as much as 60 years in prison.

"Obviously we're very sad for these very brave girls that had to go through this," Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly said. "We're just very disappointed."

Defense attorney Bryant Camareno, who said in his opening statement that the case would come down to the credibility of the state's witnesses, said he believed that issue was what led to Dyer's acquittal.

He said Dyer's accusers "felt the need to embellish, and as a result, it tainted their credibility."

For three days, jurors had heard testimony from witnesses who described a sex trafficking ring in which young women worked as dancers and prostitutes inside the Vegas Showgirls strip club near St. Petersburg.

One of the women said Dyer raped her as he helped hold her captive in an apartment, a charge that could have carried a 30-year prison sentence if he was convicted.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury heard from Dyer, who took the stand and declared: "I am an innocent man."

The purported human trafficking organization was set up by a man named Kenyatta Cornelous, several witnesses said this week. Cornelous, who is awaiting his own trial, was described as a ruthless enforcer who used beatings, threats, sexual abuse and other punishments to keep dancers in line and for those who did not earn enough money.

Dyer served as a kind of branch manager for the organization, prosecutors said. They said he drove women to the club, where they were required to perform sex acts for paying customers inside private "VIP rooms." He also collected their money.

"He knew money changed hands. He knew the girls were getting beat. He knew there was sexual favors. He knew there was prostitution. He knew what was going on," Assistant State Attorney Kelly McKnight said.

One exotic dancer said Dyer and Cornelous urged her to move from a different strip club by promising her "a better life in a better club." By switching to their group and dancing at Vegas Showgirls, she said, "I was promised going out on trips, vacations, put through school, a real good time."

Instead, she said, breaking down in tears, "I had to dance and perform sexual favors to guys." The 28-year-old dancer, who is not being named because of the nature of the allegations, said she was intimidated by the group into performing the sex acts.

But Dyer told a much different story when he took the witness stand Thursday. He said he met Cornelous while working as a bouncer at a club called Bottoms Up and was hired merely to run a food truck. In fact, even some of the prosecution witnesses said he had spent time working on preparing the food truck for a blues festival in Orlando.

"I am innocent of any of these allegations," Dyer said.

Dyer said he had a falling out with Cornelous over money and moved to Orlando, but he was shocked weeks later to learn via television news that he was a wanted man in connection with a human trafficking case. He said he drove to Pinellas County and spoke to a sheriff's detective to try to clear his name.

But his comments in that interview became potential evidence against him because he described driving the women to and from the strip club. .

But during his testimony on Thursday, Dyer denied driving the women anywhere and seemed flustered when Connolly, the prosecutor, showed him the interview in which he said he did.

Connolly suggested a reason that his story changed: By the time of the trial, he had learned that transporting workers to and from forced labor is against Florida's anti-human trafficking law.

As to the rape allegation, Dyer on Thursday denied any kind of "physicality" against his accuser.

"This is something that this lady has grabbed out of the air," he said.

Jurors took more than four hours to reach their verdict.

Man found not guilty in Pinellas human trafficking case 06/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 11, 2010 2:26am]
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