PARK HILLS, MO (KFVS) - A Park Hills, Missouri couple are accused of sex trafficking of a minor.
Marcus Dewayne Thompson, 28, and his wife Robin Thompson, 24, were charged by a criminal complaint, unsealed on Aug. 24 in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill., with one count of sex trafficking of a minor by force, fraud or coercion, and one count of conspiracy to do the same.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Springfield Division, and members of the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force, Fairview Heights. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel T. Kapsak is prosecuting the case.
Law enforcement agencies in the Heartland want parents to know that this is happening in their backyards.
"Don't talk to strangers in person or online. You never know who you are talking to on the other end," said Shawn Wood.
Wood works as victim's advocate for the Scott County Sheriff's Department.
She said, time and time again, these victims are coaxed in to these situations and it's important parents to have an open conversation with your kids about the dangers.
"The key for parents is to communicate with their kids," she said. "They need to know who they are talking to. Not just in public or face to face, but on the computer. They need to set guidelines, they need to set rules about how long you're on the computer. They need to know who they are talking to."
Police want parents to be nosy and check your kids' Facebook pages often, along with their text messages.
They say know your privacy setting on your computer when it comes to the internet and talk to your kids about the dangers of being kidnapped more than once.
According to court documents, the Thompsons are being investigated in connection with sex trafficking in the Southern District of Illinois and across the United States.
The documents state that a 15-year-old girl told FBI agents that the Thompsons used force, fraud and coercion to recruit her and other girls, both minor and adult, to engage in prostitution in multiple states. According to the report, there was a total of five victims.
Documents say the FBI was notified at about 10:34 p.m. on July 25 when the National Human Trafficking Response Center contacted their Chicago Division to report a 15-year-old girl was found at a St. Louis children's hospital.
The girl said the Thompsons recruited her and took her to locations in Orlando, Fla., St. Louis, Mo., New Mexico and Texas.
She told officers she was originally recruited while walking in Madison, Ill.
Around July 27, the FBI got a missing persons report from the alleged victim's local police agency that stated she was last seen by family members on the morning of June 9.
In a series of interviews, the girl told FBI agents that she had been approached by Marcus Thompson while walking down the street. Thompson allegedly told her she could earn money as a model, so she agreed to get into the white pickup truck with him.
The girl said there were already four other girls in the extended cab of the truck. She said she believed their ages were 15, 12, 18 and one of unknown age.
She reported that Thompson allegedly returned the white truck to a rental car company and then drove her around in a brown, four-door pickup that she thought belonged to him.
According to court documents, the girl said she was with the Thompsons when they allegedly stole a camper from somewhere in Missouri. She said she heard Marcus Thompson say that they were going to steal a camper so that they would have "somewhere to stay."
Afterward, she said the Thompsons drove the girls about nine to 10 hours before stopping at a hotel. She reported that the next day they arrived in Orlando, Fla. and parked the camper in a campsite.
Marcus Thompson then allegedly took pictures of her in the camper on the bed for prostitution advertisements on a website.
The girl stated that Marcus Thompson would post the ads and Robin Thompson would answer calls from customers responding to the ads and coordinate the engagement.
She said she was forced by the Thompsons to hide her face in the pictures by leaning her head as far back as she could.
The following day, the Thompsons allegedly made her have sex with men for money. The court documents say some of the men that allegedly paid to have sex with her would pay more to be able to take pictures and videos of her with their phones.
According to court documents, the girl said she remembered one of the other girls with her, who was also 15 years old, "died in my arms" at some point during this trip with the Thompsons.
According to the girl, the group spent a total of five days in Orlando. She allegedly earned about $1,000 a day for the Thompsons through prostitution.
Documents state she also reported that on multiple occasions she saw Marcus Thompson break into places and steal items of value that were later pawned for money.
After leaving Orlando, the Thompsons allegedly took the girls to Nashville, Tenn. The girl told officers the Thompsons continued to advertise prostitution there, but it was "not busy" so they left after two days.
She said that she remembered having contact with police in Nashville, but did not recall the details. She said she did not ask for help because she was scared of Marcus Thompson.
According to the girl, the group traveled from Nashville to locations in Florida, including Pensacola. From there, she said they traveled to the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas.
She said the Thompsons parked the camper in the back of Marcus Thompson's grandfather's property, near a wooded location.
The girl told officers that while in Texas, she was sold to a "mean trucker" by the Thompsons at a truck stop for $2,000. She reported that she was with the man for about two hours, but he took her back to the Thompsons because he thought she was "gonna snitch."
According to court documents, the Thompsons were violent toward the girls and had several firearms.
The girl told officers that she believed there were possibly four other men who would watch the girls when the Thompsons were not around.
She reported that on one occasion she tried to escape into the woods, but was allegedly caught and beaten by Marcus Thompson.
Court documents state that she and the other girls were allegedly threatened by the Thompsons that if they tried to escape, they would be killed and "thrown to the alligators in the swamp."
The girl told officers that she believed that one girl was "thrown to the alligators" at some point by Marcus Thompson.
Following the first interview, the FBI sent administrative subpoenas to the website mentioned above to corroborate the alleged prostitution ads.
Court documents say the returned subpoenas dated Aug. 4 indicated the Thompsons had used a cell phone number and a telephone number for prostitution ads in Orlando and Pensacola, Fla.; Atlanta, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Dallas, Texas.
According to the court documents, an ad posted in Orlando, Fla. on June 23, using a cell phone contained two photos. Officers say they recognized a girl in one of the photos as the alleged victim being interviewed.
Officers say that photo, as well as others, was used again in ads from June to July in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas.
They say none of the photos show the alleged victim's face, but when they showed her the photos, she identified the person as herself.
Court documents state that around Aug. 9, an officer with the Ste. Genevieve Police Department saw Robin Thompson driving a blue Chevrolet Cavalier with no visible license plates, followed closely by Marcus Thompson, who was driving a silver Chevrolet Silverado pickup.
Documents say the officer turned on his lights and directed Marcus Thompson to yield, but he allegedly refused to do so. They say Robin Thompson then pulled into a parking lot, followed by Marcus Thompson.
As the officer walked up to the vehicles, Marcus Thompson allegedly sped off from the lot in the truck. The officer called for assistance and a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper began following Thompson.
They say Marcus Thompson was able to evade law enforcement by abandoning the truck behind a shopping center and running away.
Court documents state that the Ste. Genevieve County Sheriff's Office had the truck towed and secured in a gated facility on their property since Aug. 9.
Around Aug. 11, sheriff's detectives forwarded pictures taken of the truck to the FBI for review. The FBI says the pictures of the truck matched a vehicle displayed in photos used in some of the prostitution ads.
A search warrant for the truck was authorized on Aug. 12 and the next day, on Aug. 13, FBI agents searched the truck. Agents allegedly found a blue notebook containing handwritten notes. They say written inside the front cover of the notebook was "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson."
According to officers, the notes in the notebook are indicative of a ledger that would be kept by someone who is organizing the appointments of a prostitute.
The notes allegedly contained names, times, phone numbers, prices and codes known to law enforcement to reflect certain sex acts. They also allegedly contained addresses of campgrounds, addresses of potential customers and addresses of truck stops.
This case was brought as part of a Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice.
Led by U.S. Attorney's Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims.
You can click here for more information on Project Safe Childhood.