Monday, June 18, 2018
News Roundup

Sex trafficking victims gather in Tampa for pimp's sentencing

TAMPA — Weylin O. Rodriguez is a pimp. A jury said so.

A "manipulative, violent pimp," prosecutor Stacie B. Harris wrote in a court memo.

At 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, Rodriguez is not a big man, but he needed only to manipulate teen girls. He coerced them into selling sex. He did so, witnesses testified, through affection, intimidation and beatings.

On Friday, four young victims sat in the front row of a federal courtroom in Tampa, waiting to learn the fate of the man they called "Rico." One was still in high school. Whatever the afternoon brought, she would still have a tattoo of dollar signs on her rear, the branding of a pimp.

But Rodriguez, 29, no longer controlled anyone. On Friday, a woman was in charge. A federal judge.

• • •

Only victim initials appear in court records, for privacy.

Their stories played out mostly around Orlando and Charlotte, N.C., but Tampa wasn't immune. A 15-year-old who took a ride from Rodriguez in Ybor City wound up in a motel room in Orlando. She reported a two-day ordeal that ended when a "john" let her call home. Her mom came to get her.

Another girl, the one with the tattoo, D.B., met Rodriguez while walking with her friend, E.F., on Silver Star Road in Orlando. It was Thanksgiving Day 2010. The girls were 15 and 17. Rodriguez pulled up in a car and flashed a gun. He had other men with him. The girls were taken to a hotel suite near Disney World.

"Defendant instructed his friends to turn D.B. and E.F. into 'hoes,' " prosecutor Harris wrote. One friend had sex with D.B. Two had sex with E.F. Later, Rodriguez had sex with her, too.

"E.F. cried," Harris wrote.

D.B. cried Friday at the sentencing hearing while speaking to U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven, who presided over the jury trial in November. Rodriguez was convicted then of five federal counts of sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion, two counts of coercion or enticement of a minor and two charges relating to guns.

The four victims who walked up the aisle in the middle of Friday's sentencing could have been any young women, sandals or boots on their feet, three pairs of pants and a high-low skirt, a sleeveless top, a plaid one, a dark jacket, a camouflage print.

Rodriguez swung his head when they entered and kept turning to look. They all noticed, they said later.

D.B. hated it. She thought he looked evil. He disgusted her.

She sat nearest to the aisle. To her left sat E.F., then two other girls, N.M. and B.W.

N.M. had been walking home from a Walmart in Charlotte when Rodriguez stopped and asked if she had thought of modeling. He made a similar pitch to B.W., after meeting her at a Family Dollar store in Orlando.

His card said "GMB Entertainment." It mentioned modeling. They didn't know the letters stood for "get money b----."

Rodriguez drove N.M., then 17, to Orlando. "Later, defendant told N.M. that he was a pimp and that she was never going home," the prosecutor wrote.

The girls were rotated among cheap motels and residences.

During the trial, one girl said she asked several times to go home. Another said Rodriguez hit her in the face when she tried to call her mother.

He wasn't always mean. Sometimes he flirted and bought gifts.

His two most trusted prostitutes were in charge of training and overseeing the girls, and they listened in by cellphone to make sure the trainees followed the rules and did not escape.

Those two, 6-foot-5 Pria Gunn, 21, and Tatjuana Joye, 23, have already been sentenced on lesser charges.

He beat them up, too. E.F. saw Rodriguez get angry at Joye for charging too little during a "date," the prosecutor wrote. He made Joye lay on a motel floor so he could jump on her stomach.

Last fall, when E.F. testified, she was asked how she felt while engaging in sex acts for money.

"I felt scared," she said. "I felt worthless and, like, that I was never going to be able to do anything else with my life."

• • •

After the U.S. marshals had taken Rodriguez away Friday, the same young woman stood outside the 10th floor courtroom. There, the only walls are giant windows affording a view of the horizon.

Now 20, she is a college student in Maryland, planning to major in political science.

In the sentencing memo, prosecutor Harris suggested that a sex trafficker who forced teen girls into prostitution should be locked away for life.

Rodriguez's defense attorney, Alec Hall, asked instead for a sentence of 20 years. He explained that the defendant's mother had been a prostitute and his father was a pimp. He cited the adage, "like father like son."

But Harris reminded the judge that the women Rodriguez exploited — not only the victims in court but others known to law enforcement — had much taken from them, as did families.

"They were daughters, sisters, mothers," Harris said. "They were teenagers. None of these girls said, 'I want to be a prostitute when I grow up.' "

Directly behind her, D.B. clutched a crumpled tissue. N.M. squeezed the arms of E.F. and B.W., three sets of knees lightly bouncing in unison, waiting.

Rodriguez' lawyer cautioned the judge about imposing life. It's unwarranted, he said. It could set a new standard.

Rodriguez twirled a pen through his fingers like a little baton, round and round, until the man beside him, part of the defense team, snatched it away.

And then Judge Scriven spoke.

This was a case as bad, she said, as any the court had seen.

She told of lives destroyed. She noted a lack of remorse from Rodriguez. She acknowledged the imprint of his upbringing but explained the need to keep others safe from his kind of harm.

She could think of just one way to do that. Life, plus five years.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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