ST. PETERSBURG — In a case that exposed a hidden side of Tampa Bay's sex industry, a 42-year-old man has pleaded guilty to sexual battery, human trafficking and other charges.
Kenyatta Cornelous received a 19-year prison sentence Friday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
At the time of his arrest in 2009, authorities said Cornelous was part of a sex trafficking ring that recruited down-on-their-luck women and wowed them by inviting them to a $600,000 rented home on Treasure Island. Later, the women were forced to dance in strip clubs and prostitute themselves, police said.
One of the men arrested in the group, Colin Anthony Dyer, went on trial in 2010 and was found not guilty.
But during that trial, Cornelous' name regularly came up. A 19-year-old woman testified that she agreed to move into an apartment provided by Cornelous and to dance at the Vegas Showgirls strip club in St. Petersburg. Cornelous told her she would have to dance, prostitute herself and give free sexual favors to his associates, she testified.
He also told her to look for addicts and other needy women who could be lured into the ring, she said.
"I do specifically remember him telling me 'the more vulnerable the better,' "she testified .
Regardless of this case in Pinellas County, Cornelous was going to be spending a lot of time behind bars. He pleaded guilty in 2011 in federal court in Iowa to a charge of conspiracy to make and distribute 11 pounds of cocaine. He received a 26-year prison sentence.
His 19-year Florida sentence is concurrent with the federal sentence, essentially meaning he'll serve both prison sentences at the same time.
Nonetheless, "I think it's a success," said Professor Luz Nagle, a Stetson College of Law professor who works to fight human trafficking and has taught a course on the subject.
She said one important aspect of this case is that it shows how U.S. citizens — not just immigrants — can be victims of trafficking.
Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said the case against Cornelous was strong, but he was "very comfortable" with the plea agreement.
Vegas Showgirls managers have consistently denied that any prostitution occurs at the club.
Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232. Follow him on Twitter at @ckruegertimes.