Miami-Dade County

Jamaican man denies being global pimp in Miami sex-trafficking trial

Damion St. Patrick Baston, the Jamaican man accused of pimping and beating a string of women from South Florida to the Middle East to Australia, denied the allegations Tuesday when he took the witness stand in his own defense.

Baston said he went to school in New York City, studied fashion, earned a black belt in karate, lifted weights like his hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, worked as a nightclub dancer and eventually got into the music business as a talent agent.

But Baston, 37, testified in Miami federal court Tuesday that he never forced any of his many girlfriends into his escort service, “Bachelors Club,” never abused them as prostitutes and never took their money.

“I was always nice and kind,” Baston told his defense attorney, David Rowe, in soft, accented English, as the 12-person federal jury listened. “It was love. It was romantic. It was fun.”

Asked if the young women who fell under his spell suffered from Stockholm Syndrome — the phenomenon that they felt attached to him despite his alleged abuse — Baston said: “They all left.”

Baston is on trial on sex-trafficking offenses in Miami federal court, charged with using “psychological coercion and physical abuse” against at least seven women he pimped around the globe. The Jamaican national, who was arrested at his mother's New York home in December, continued his defiant testimony Wednesday during cross-examination by federal prosecutor Roy Altman.

Altman accused Baston of lying repeatedly about his past, his relationships with former girlfriends and his theft of an American man’s identity to orchestrate his global prostitution racket.

“I am not a pimp,” Baston testified Wednesday.

At one point, the prosecutor zeroed in on Baston’s prior criminal record in the late 1990s, when he was convicted of possessing stolen property, a conviction that led to a U.S. immigration judge’s order to deport him to his native Jamaica.

Altman pressed Baston to admit that he was ordered removed from the United States, and that he violated that order when he left Vermont, crossed the Canadian border and got caught re-entering the United States.

But Baston refused to admit that he was officially deported from the United States, saying it was a “touchy subject” because he had come to live in New York with his family when he was eight years old.

The prosecutor would not relent, provoking Baston to become visibly angry.

“You’re playing games with my life,” Baston declared. “You’re an evil dude, man.”

A verdict in his sex-trafficking trial might come next week. Baston could be locked up for the rest of his life if the Miami jury convicts him.

Baston’s testimony contrasted starkly with that of the six women who took the witness stand last week. The women — two Australians, a New Zealander and three Americans — claimed he exploited them as strippers on Australia’s Gold Coast, in Dubai and in Florida and then manipulated them into working for his escort business. They said that while they did fall for Baston at first, attracted to his charm and physique, they eventually grew to fear him because he would hit them with his fist for the slightest reason.

But Baston, in an often disjointed testimony, portrayed himself as an entrepreneur who launched an escort business in Australia, where prostitution is legal, and aspired to start a hip clothing line and a Caribbean-Latin American fusion restaurant. He testified that he became partners with one Australian woman in the escort business, in which he played the role of driver and bodyguard.

The woman, identified as K.L., “was an owner and operator of the Bachelors Club,” who prepared financial spreadsheets on the customers and split profits with him, Baston testified.

But last week, the Australian woman testified that she was enrolled in college and worked in a restaurant when she met Baston at an Australian nightclub in 2011. K.L. said she discovered a book titled Pimpology in his apartment and that he coaxed her into dancing in strip clubs and picking up clients for tricks. She said Baston was “money hungry” and kept all the profits.

She said that Baston took her and a New Zealand woman to Dubai at Christmas that year and forced them to participate in a threesome with him, after they celebrated the holiday by opening luxury gifts from Versace, Louis Vuitton and other designer stores.

Jurors saw a video showing the Australian and New Zealander in what appeared in a happy mood as they opened their presents with Baston at the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

But K.L. testified last week that she was hiding her true feelings.

“I was never happy with the situation,” K.L. testified. “The only reason I continued was that my family and I would be harmed if I ran away.”

However, Baston testified that he never threatened K.L. and the New Zealand woman, who also worked in his escort service. He said they were willing partners in the threesome.

“I had a very good relationship with her,” Baston said, referring to K.L.

Baston said K.L. was “quite excited” when he took her to Miami in 2012. But she testified that he continued to force her to work in South Florida strip clubs and to prostitute herself.

Baston, who had been ordered removed from the United States in the late 1990s, was able to travel around the globe to recruit the young women because he had stolen the identity of an American citizen. Baston obtained a Florida ID card and U.S. passport in that person's name, Rayshawn Bryant, a Columbus, Ohio, forklift operator, during the past decade.

Those documents turned out to be crucial evidence that came to light in May 2012 when K.L. left Miami and returned to Australia to renew her visa. After her family learned about her prostitution activities, the woman broke down and told U.S. State Department authorities about her relationship with the Jamaican man who used Bryant’s identity.

That revelation sparked the federal investigation of Baston.

Related stories from Miami Herald