Florida Keys

Children's shelter worker indicted on federal sex-trafficking charges

Ricky Jermaine
Ricky Jermaine Monroe County Sheriff’s Office via KeysInfoNet

A federal grand jury indicted a former Florida Keys Children's Shelter employee on felony sex-trafficking charges last week.

Ricky Jermaine Atkins of Key Largo faces life in federal prison if he is convicted of two counts each of sex trafficking of a minor and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. He was arraigned Monday and pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Alicia Otazo-Reyes.

He is accused of driving two teenage girls who were residents of the Tavernier shelter to a Motel 6 in Miami-Dade County on Aug. 15, where the girls said prostitution took place. Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Atkins on Sept. 10.

He was arraigned on Sept. 30 and charged with two felony counts of interfering with the custody of an incompetent minor. Atkins was released on $50,000 bond. His next appearance in front of a Monroe County judge is scheduled for Feb.5.

The indictment was issued in Miami-Dade County.

Federal agents arrested Atkins, 28, Dec. 11. A Homestead woman, Sandra Simon, was indicted on the same charges. She was arrested on Sept. 26 and also faces life. Simons’ initial appearance in court is Friday in Miami.

The indictment, filed Dec. 9 and sealed until Atkins' arrest two days later, states Atkins and Simon were involved in trafficking minors for the purposes of "commercial" sex acts from July to September. The document, signed by U.S. Attorney Wilfredo A. Ferrer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth M. Slessinger, said the alleged crimes took place in both Monroe and Miami-Dade counties.

According to Atkins' September Sheriff's Office arrest report, the two girls, ages 15 and 16, ran away from the shelter, off mile marker 88, on Aug. 15 around 11:30 p.m. They told police they met Atkins a little more than a mile north, and he drove them in his car to the motel in Miami-Dade.

Sheriff's Office Detective Vince Weiner said in his report that surveillance footage shows Atkins' 2007 silver Nissan driving near mile marker 106 at 1 a.m. Aug. 16. Under questioning, Atkins admitted driving to the motel, but he said the girls were not with him, according to Weiner's report. He did, however, tell investigators he saw one of the girls in the motel lobby.

As a shelter staff member, Atkins was required to report seeing the girl, since she was outside of the facility without authorization. The shelter fired Atkins hours after his Sept. 10 arrest.

The girls were eventually found on Aug. 24 in Sarasota County in the backseat of a damaged car parked outside of a house in the town of North Port. North Point police officers discovered the girls while responding to a hit-and-run call.

There were two adults in the car. The driver was Claudia Gomez a 22-year-old exotic dancer who worked at the Booby Trap strip club in Homestead. In the passenger seat was Robert Munoz, 25, an electrician from Miami.

Two women said Gomez and Munoz repeatedly rear-ended their vehicle and that Munoz got out of his car and angrily confronted them. The women were the first to see the girls in the backseat.

Gomez initially faced two counts of aggravated battery, two counts of child abuse, one count of driving with a suspended license and one of driving under the influence of alcohol. Only the latter two charges remain.

Munoz was arrested on two felony counts of aggravated battery and two child abuse counts. All four counts were dismissed Sept. 26, according to Sarasota County records.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one of the girls has gone missing again. She disappeared on Nov. 12.