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Adults hid teen so they could keep him for sex at St. Pete mobile home, authorities say

The boy, 16, was reported missing from Marion County 11 months before police found him. Mark and Andrew Dennis gave the teen a new name, date of birth and backstory, and told him to leave any identification behind, a criminal complaint says.
St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway (at podium) addresses reporters Jan. 14 after announcing arrests in connection with a human trafficking ring. The chief was joined by Mayor Rick Kriseman, at chief’s left, and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, to the chief’s right.
Published Jan. 23

ST. PETERSBURG — When police officers arrived at a squalid St. Petersburg mobile home last May, Mark Dennis told them that the 16-year-old living inside was his son.

Dennis, 52, said it again the next day — this time in court, under oath, according to a court document. Dennis said he got a call that the teen's mother had been arrested, he told a judge, then a woman dropped the boy off at his home.

But an eight-month investigation by a number of law enforcement agencies revealed another story, spelled out in a 32-page complaint released Wednesday and obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

The boy had actually been reported missing from Marion County 11 months before police found him. Dennis and his husband, Andrew, gave the teen a new name, date of birth and backstory. They told him to leave any identification behind and take apart his computer and cellphone to prevent authorities from finding him.

Then, they picked him up May 31, 2017, and brought him back to the home in the Silver Lake Mobile Home Community. Over the next year, the Dennises and two other men sexually abused him again and again, investigators said.

Last week, investigators arrested six men and one woman on conspiracy to commit human trafficking charges. They are Mark and Andrew Dennis; Michael Ray Blasdel, 36; J.R. Gauthier, 29; Eleanor Faye McGlamory, 56; Michael Wayne Schwartz, 51; and Curtis Gruwell, 34. The Dennises, Blasdel and Gauthier also face sexual battery charges.

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Officers discovered the boy while trying to locate another missing teen, a 17-year-old boy from Louisiana. The group met both boys through video games, primarily communicating through the messaging app Discord.

The Louisiana boy told the Dennises he was on the verge of a breakdown and needed to get away from school and his parents, according to copies of messages included in the complaint.

"I would like to run away to y'all since I know y'all are great people that love to help others," he wrote in May.

Gruwell and McGlamory drove to Louisiana to pick him up. The Dennises, under the username "BeenUsedAgainNOMORE," told the teen he'd have to get out of the car and walk across state lines.

"We would get a felony charge otherwise," one of them told him.

The Marion County boy also came from a vulnerable place. He had come out as gay to his mother, who didn't take it well, according to the complaint. In February 2017, he started confiding in McGlamory. She offered to take him to a gay wedding to show him a more positive experience.

The wedding, the complaint says, was between Mark Dennis and Andrew Clements, who took his husband's last name. It was on April 22, 2017, at the Flamingo Resort in St. Petersburg.

Over the next month and a half, McGlamory and the newlyweds concocted a plan to move the teen in with the Dennises. Over Discord, the Dennises and Gruwell told the boy about his new life.

If anyone asked, he had recently moved to St. Petersburg from Ohio. If anyone figured out his true identity, he'd say that he had reached out to a group that helped relocate unhappy children. His birthday became the Dennis couple's wedding anniversary — April 22.

In St. Petersburg, the boy lived with the Dennises, Gruwell and Schwartz. They, along with Blasdel, were part of what they called a "family circle." Gauthier was Blasdel's boyfriend.

The Dennises, Gauthier and Blasdel performed sex acts on the boy, with Mark Dennis as the dominant figure according to the complaint. Gruwell and Schwartz watched but didn't intervene, the document says.

In May, the boy confided in Blasdel that he was tired of being a sex toy for the men, according to the complaint. He said he was embarrassed and "tired of it from day one and still annoyed," according to copies of their Discord messages in the complaint.

"I'm sorry hun," Blasdel wrote, "but you have to communicate when something is bothering you or we don't know."

St. Petersburg police came to the mobile home on May 9, two days after Gruwell and McGlamory picked up the 17-year-old boy from Louisiana. He was returned to his parents unharmed. Child welfare workers took the 16-year-old and told Mark Dennis to come to an emergency custody hearing the next morning and bring paperwork documenting his parental rights.

In court, Mark Dennis continued the charade, according to the complaint. Afterward, the boy told the truth to a Florida Department of Children and Families supervisor. With the correct name and date of birth, authorities learned he had been reported missing 11 months earlier from Marion County.

Police called in several other agencies, including the Florida Attorney General's office, and spent the next eight months investigating the ring. Meantime, the Dennises, Schwartz and Gruwell moved to Lehigh Acres, just east of Fort Myers.

All seven were arrested last week and remain in jail in lieu of six-figure bails.

Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow@kathrynvarn.

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