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Jury selection begins in Pinellas sex slavery trial; Women Drugged and Used as Prosties in Strip Joints

CLEARWATER, Florida – from www.suncoastpinellas.tbo.com – – When the woman moved into Apartment 219, there was no way to know the hell about to unfold.

It was February 2009.

The woman, who was in the early stages of pregnancy, met a man named Kenyatta Cornelous, who told her she could move in and pay him as she made money, according to court records.

Cornelous, 29, was going to have her work at Vegas Showgirls, a strip club on Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg, according to court records.

After moving in Feb. 16, the woman drank a Coca-Cola. She woke up the next morning bleeding and realized she had been drugged and raped, according to court records.

The next few months, she became a victim, prosecutors said, of a human trafficking ring in Pinellas County that turned vulnerable women into sex slaves. The woman was repeatedly sexually assaulted, beaten and told she would be killed if she tried to leave, prosecutors said. She was made to turn tricks inside the club, charging upwards of $500 an hour – money that all went to her captors, according to court records.

This shadowy world of human sex slavery is in the spotlight today in Courtroom 2 of the Pinellas County Courthouse. A jury is being picked for the trial of Colin Anthony Dyer, 33, [pictured, right] who investigators said was the second in command of a human trafficking organization.

Dyer has been charged with one count of sexual battery and two counts of human trafficking and faces a total maximum of 60 years in prison. Opening statements in the trial may come as early as this afternoon.

Cornelous, who prosecutors said is the group’s ringleader, and two other defendants, Edward Jones, 48, and Corinna Shaffer, 25, have waived their right to speedy trial and have an Aug. 31 pretrial hearing.

After the woman was sexually assaulted that first night, she said Cornelous and Dyer refused to let her leave, prosecutors said. The woman, who was not identified because of the nature of the crime, told investigators she tried jumping out of the window, but the men pulled her back in.

Cornelous pulled an ottoman over to the front door and sat down, preventing her from escaping, according to court records.

The men told her she would work for them at Vegas Showgirls and give them all her money, court records said. She heard the men tell two other women, who were also victims, the same thing, court records said.

Despite the threats, the woman tried to escape. One time, she said a man, who she only knew as “Pudgy,” grabbed her, threw her into the bathtub, kicked her in the stomach and stepped on her. Another time, after saying something to Dyer, she said Dyer slammed her into the kitchen counter, pushed her and, after she fell to the ground, kicked her

The woman started bleeding heavily and cramping. She believes she lost her baby that night, she said. She repeatedly asked the men to take her to the doctor, but they refused, she said.

Between that night and Feb. 26, 2009, the woman said she was raped eight times by Cornelous and 12 times by Dyer.

She was not the only victim, investigators said. A witness said another woman was also brutalized by the men and tried to escape out the apartment window but was prevented.

There were other victims as well, and not all were forced to work in the sex industry, investigators said. Some were forced to work in a mobile kitchen called Uptown Cuisine that the men would set up to sell food at events such as a blues music festival in Orlando, investigators said.

Prosecutors said Shaffer not only worked the food van, but it also was her job to monitor how much money the women made from prostitution at the club, then drive them back to a home at 10214 Tarpon Drive in Treasure Island.

The pregnant victim said she once went into Cornelous’ bedroom at the house and saw a garment bag on the bed. She said she thought it was full of stacks of cash and maybe a gun. The money, she said, came from the women who were being forced to work as prostitutes.

At the club, the women were expected to earn as much as possible or face “penalties,” investigators said. In one case, one of the women was forced to perform a sex act on Cornelous in front of a group of people, including Shaffer and other captives, because she made the least amount of money, investigators said.

The woman at the center of the charges against Cornelous and Dyer said she once earned as much as $1,200 during a night of prostitution at the club.

The men made her do more than just turn tricks, investigators said. She was driven around Pinellas County by Cornelous and Dyer and told to find more vulnerable women and recruit them into the human trafficking organization, investigators said. She said she tried, even talking to two women, but was never able to recruit anyone.

By March, members of the Clearwater Area Human Trafficking Task Force, made up of Clearwater police and Pinellas deputies, began conducting surveillance operations on the organization.

One woman was never seen without a “handler.” Jones and another man were seen taking women to Tiffany’s Night Club, a Pompano Beach strip club.

On April 19, an undercover detective followed Jones from the Treasure Island home as he took a woman to a Walgreens to buy condoms, then to the Emperor’s Club, a strip club on U.S. 19 in Holiday, investigators said. Inside the club, the woman offered to perform a sex act on the detective for $150 in the club’s VIP room, investigators said.

Investigators staked out the Treasure Island home and said they determined that Cornelous, Dyer, Jones, Shaffer and two of the women lived there. Investigators also said they determined the home was the center of the human trafficking organization. Authorities made arrests in May.

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