Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa sex trafficker gets 30 years in prison

TAMPA — Eric Antwan Bell, prosecutors say, looked for teenage girls in crisis. His prey were those from broken homes, runaways without money living on the bruised edges of society.

He befriended them, promised to take care of them and offered them a refuge, prosecutors say.

What Bell was doing in Tampa, according to an indictment, was building a stable of prostitutes.

Bell, 38, who lived in Bradenton but used an apartment in Tampa, was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison to be followed by 15 years of supervised release. He had pleaded guilty in February to four charges of sex trafficking of minors.

The investigation started when a 15-year-old girl told the Pinellas Sheriff's Office that Bell had forced her into prostitution after she met him at a Tampa bus stop in 2009. She knew him by the name "Santana."

The girl said she performed 15 to 20 "tricks" per day and earned $40,000 to $50,000 for Bell, who kept most of it.

"What Mr. Bell did was inexcusable," said prosecutor Stacie Harris. "He used, abused children for his own gain and raped them for his own enjoyment."

His prison term is three years short of the maximum called for by sentencing guidelines.

Bell's attorney asked for a 20-year sentence, noting Bell had helped police in other investigations and might now be in danger because he has been named publicly as a snitch.

Bell stood Monday before U.S. District Court Judge James Moody Jr. in a blue jail jumpsuit and said he was contrite.

"I apologize," Bell said. "I accept full responsibility for everything I did. … I accept my responsibility in full."

Moody seemed unmoved and referred to Bell's extensive criminal history, which started when Bell was 12 and includes violence, drugs, theft and possession of counterfeit money.

"The facts of this case are bad enough," Moody said. "It's like the whole world is out there to serve you and there are just no rules that apply."

Bell's girlfriend, Neang "Pocahontas" Prom, 30, whom prosecutors say was one of Bell's top prostitutes, was sentenced Monday to a little more than three years in prison on sex trafficking charges.

She was accused of posting online advertisements for at least three teenage girls and collecting the money they made as prostitutes.

One of the couple's victims asked Moody to give Bell the maximum allowable sentence.

The woman, now 18, said she was 14 when she met Bell as she walked to a store. Bell told her she was pretty, and the woman said she thought Bell was interested in her romantically.

Bell persuaded her, prosecutors say, to work as a prostitute, with all proceeds going to Bell. The woman, like other victims, said Bell raped her.

"My childhood was taken away from me when I was young and I was forced to be an adult before my time," said the woman, who is not named because of the nature of the crime. "They should know that they hurt me and ruined my life so they could help themselves and have money. I want their lives to be ruined so they can't ruin any other lives."

The woman's mother told the judge, "My daughter was preyed upon by monsters."

The case was investigated by local, state and federal members of the Tampa Bay/Clearwater Area Task Force on Human Trafficking.

William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
The Daystarter: Lightning one win away from advancing; Steve Persall rides off into retirement; talking ‘St. Pete Pier’ funding; meet the Times’ new business columnist

The Daystarter: Lightning one win away from advancing; Steve Persall rides off into retirement; talking ‘St. Pete Pier’ funding; meet the Times’ new business columnist

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• It’s more of the same with sunny skies and warm temperatures today. It’ll be a bit cooler at the beaches around the mid-70s, but east of Interstate 75 it will be in the mid to upper 8...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Trademark makes it official: Call it the St. Pete Pier

Trademark makes it official: Call it the St. Pete Pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Today the City Council is set to approve a $15 million construction contract and additional money for the next phase of the new Pier District expected to open in the fall of 2019.But even as council members get ready to commit hundre...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Downtown’s success creates noisy problem for St. Petersburg

Downtown’s success creates noisy problem for St. Petersburg

Times Staff Writer ST. PETERSBURG — Downtown’s rapid growth has not been without tension between its residents and the businesses and events that draw exuberant crowds.The city, which has been attempting to amend its noise ordinance over the past few...
Published: 04/19/18
Teen, 16, killed in Hernando crash; 17-year-old critically injured

Teen, 16, killed in Hernando crash; 17-year-old critically injured

BROOKSVILLE — A 16-year-old boy was killed and a 17-year-old boy critically injured after their car was struck by a pick-up truck at the intersection of U.S. 19 and Country Road on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The cras...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

Lightning stands up to Devils, pushes its way to 3-1 series lead

NEWARK, N.J. — Bachman-Turner Overdrive's Taking Care of Business shook the walls of the Lightning locker room not long after it dispatched the Devils in Wednesday's Game 4 of their first-round playoff series.The 3-1 win was sparked by Nikita K...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 18

Wednesday’s scoreboardSoftballAdmiral Farragut 2, Boca Ciega 1Springstead 10, Nature Coast 4
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning-Devils: How Tampa Bay worked its way to a 3-1 series lead

Lightning-Devils: How Tampa Bay worked its way to a 3-1 series lead

Times columnist Tom Jones gives his thoughts while watching the broadcast of Game 4 of the series between the Lightning and Devils:Hard work beats everythingWe watch the Lightning all season long and marvel at its skill. Nikita Kucherov, Steven ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Political skirmish erupts over plan to revamp Hillsborough commission

Political skirmish erupts over plan to revamp Hillsborough commission

TAMPA — A political fight over the makeup of Hillsborough County government could be heading to voters to decide.After a discussion divided along party lines, commissioners voted 5-2 Wednesday to move ahead with a plan to overhaul the structure of th...
Updated: 8 hours ago