Florida Keys

Federal jury convicts former Keys shelter staffer of human trafficking

By David Goodhue

A 12-member jury convicted a former Florida Keys Children's Shelter staffer Friday of federal sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit trafficking.

Ricky Atkins, 29, faces life in federal prison.

Atkins was convicted in Miami of taking two shelter runaway teen girls to a mainland motel where his partner, Sandra Simon, was waiting to prostitute the then 15- and 16-year-olds. Simon, 24, had already pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government in its case against Atkins.

Atkins was arrested by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and a Miami-Dade County State Attorney's office human-trafficking task force on Sept. 10, 2014. The FBI brought charges against him in December 2014.

U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke scheduled Atkins' sentencing for Jan. 27.

Atkins had worked at the Tavernier shelter for three years as a mentor to its at-risk residents.

The verdict caps three weeks of testimony from the two victims, a task force detective, an FBI agent and two former colleagues of Atkins who spoke on his behalf. Jurors also heard audio and videotape testimony given by the victims to police and federal agents, and jurors read some of Atkins' texts to and from Simon appearing to be conversations about the girls' prostitution proceeds.

Without the jury present Monday, Atkins acknowledged -- yet downplayed -- his role in delivering two girls to a mainland motel where they were prostituted last year.

"All I did was drop somebody off," Atkins told Cooke before the jury was called in.

Atkins was arguing with both Cooke and his attorney, Alex Michaels, whom Atkins accused of not doing enough to suppress text messages on his phone as evidence against him in the trial.

Atkins maintained that the police and federal agents looked through his phone in between the time he was arrested by the Sheriff's Office and task force in September 2014 and when the FBI obtained a warrant for the phone 30 days later.

Atkins had reason to worry about what was on his phone. In the days before FBI Special Agent Amanda Detterline went over the device's contents in court Monday, the government put on the stand the two shelter girls -- who were 15 and 16 when they were prostituted from Miami-Dade County to Tampa in August 2014. But some of their testimony differed from audio and videotaped interviews they initially gave law enforcement when they were first returned to the shelter after being found in Sarasota County. In those interviews, Atkins was never mentioned.

Until this week, a juror could reasonably believe Atkins simply drove the girls out of the Keys on Aug. 15, 2014, but had little or nothing to do with them being prostituted once they arrived at the Motel 6 in Cutler Ridge to meet Simon.

But the texts between Simon and Atkins tell a different story.

"Yo, what it look like," Atkins asked Simon in an Aug. 16, 2014, text.

Simon responded: "The blonde girl did one job last night for $140."

In another text, Atkins asked Simon: "They working?"

Simon responded that she was waiting for a cell phone prosecutors say Atkins bought for her to conduct prostitution business to activate. Then she wrote: "That one dude never came."

In an Aug. 17 exchange between the two, Atkins asked, "How's it going."

Simon responded, "Slow." Atkins replied, "Damn" but seemed pleased when Simon followed with, "One of them just did a call."

"Good," he wrote back.

Later that day, Simon texted Atkins that the older of the two girls "made $160. Well, $150, she took 10 to eat."

Atkins responded: "Make sure you delete these texts.