January 8, 2014

13-year-old girl forced into prostitution, then nude dancing at Miami Beach strip club, police say

Police say three men and a woman lured a 13-year-old into a tawdry life of prostitution as well as pole dancing at a Miami Beach strip club.

She went by the stage name Peaches. She was one of the many sultry young women who strut, wiggle and gyrate for the leering crowds at Club Madonna, which bills itself as Miami Beach’s only all-nude strip club.

But there was something different about Peaches, something that even the most drunk clubgoer ought to have noticed.

She was only 13 years old.

The young teen, identified as D.J. in a police report, won’t be on the bill tonight.

On Monday, police and prosecutors arrested three people on charges that they forced the runaway into a life of prostitution and pole-dancing.

Busted were: Vilbert Jean, 37, Marlene San Vincente, 22, and DeWayne Ward, 18. Each faces charges of human trafficking, lewd and lascivious conduct on a person under 16, delivering a controlled substance to a person under 18 and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Although operators of Club Madonna were not arrested, police on Tuesday conducted a search of the premises, rifling through video surveillance equipment, ledgers, computers and external hard drives, according to a warrant.

The search and arrests adds a intriguing new twist to the decade-long feud between Leroy Griffith, who has been a club owner for 40 years, and Miami Beach City Hall. He has sued the city multiple times to try to overturn its ban on alcohol sales at fully-nude clubs such as his.

Richard Wolfe, an attorney for the club, said there was “no record” of the minor working there.

“We have no record of her signing in,” he said. “We have no payroll record of her working. All the other girls signed contracts. We have no contract from this girl.”

Miami police worked with the Miami Beach Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Human Trafficking Task Force to make the arrests. Florida is considered a magnet for human trafficking, and the state ranks third in terms of calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center tip line.

According to arrest forms and interviews with Griffith:

D.J. ran away from home on Dec. 10 with two 15-year old girls. They all made their way to White House Inn, a white, two-story hotel on the water in North Miami. There, they met a man identified only as AP. He offered to take the girls to a house where they could stay while on the run.

They went with AP to 335 NE 55th Ter. in Miami, where Ward, Jean and San Vincente lived. Jean “immediately noticed” that the girls seemed to be underage, and demanded they leave. The 15-year-olds did. But D.J. “insisted” she was 18, and stayed.

Three days later, AP brought a man to the house, and D.J. agreed to have sex with him for $80. She expected to get half the money, but AP took it all for himself. She also had sex with Ward on at least six different occasions.

All the while, her hosts demanded she pay rent. Ward suggested she prostitute herself on, a site commonly used by escort services. He offered to take her picture for an online profile. D.J. declined.

Instead, D.J. babysat San Vincente’s child one night while the 22-year-old worked as a dancer at Club Madonna. The next day, San Vincente told D.J. she could work there, too, saying “she had already spoken to the club and that she could get the minor victim a job.”

So San Vincente handed D.J. “exotic clothing” and paid for her to get her hair and nails done. San Vincente introduced her at the club as an 18-year-old.

“The minor victim was never asked, nor did she ever provide the Madonna club management any identification to verify her age,” police wrote.

Griffith said he has no evidence that D.J. worked at the club. He said a club manager normally would have checked an ID to ensure a dancer was of age and also would have had her sign a contract.

“What happened to us is one of the dancers called up and said ‘I’m going to come back and dance. Can I bring a friend?’ ” he said. “You know, there are 40 or 50 girls walking in and out of the club.”

San Vincente “tutored” D.J. “on how to work the exotic club scene and generate money.”

On one particularly profitable night, Dec. 27, she raked in $500. She didn’t get to keep it. Jean took it all.

She worked from Dec. 13 to Jan. 4. At some point, D.J.’s pimps imposed a $500-a-night quota. One night when she didn’t meet it, she was “poked” with a fork. She also was made aware that Jean kept an AK-47 assault rifle in a pile of clothes in his bedroom. One time, Ward showed her a .40-caliber pistol and warned that if she ever “got away,” her would “get her.”

Ward and San Vincente plied D.J. with marijuana and alcohol. They also monitored her every move. She was watched by surveillance cameras controlled by Ward. And she was allowed to call her mother, but only while her captors listened in, and only using a blocked number.

D.J.’s mother found her on Jan. 6 in the area of North Miami Avenue and 55th Street. D.J. spoke with police, telling them they’d find refrigerators full of marijuana and also cocaine at the house. She told them Ward and Jean sold the drugs.

Police swept through the house on Monday, coming up with “findings consistent with the victim’s statement, such as the gun, the rifle and drugs.”

Miami Herald staff writer Julie K. Brown contributed to this report.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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