Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oakland man accused of sex trafficking

By Paul T. Rosynsky
Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND — Six years ago, Vincent Turner had the letters MOB tattooed across his chest, a prosecutor said Tuesday, to remind him of his credo: "Money over (expletive)."

And it is with that credo, deputy district attorney Sharon Carney said, that Turner engaged in an illegal business of kidnapping teenage prostitutes off the streets of Oakland and taking them to Stockton, where he forced them to work as his prostitutes.

"He specifically picked minors because they were easy targets," Carney said during closing arguments in the case against Turner, accused of eight felony crimes including rape, human trafficking and pandering by procuring. "The defendant was so into this lifestyle that he had the motto tattooed to his chest."

Turner, 31, of Oakland, faces life in prison if found guilty of forcibly taking a 15- and 16-year-old captive, raping them and then trying to force them to earn up to $2,500 through prostitution for their release.

Turner was arrested last year after one of the girls escaped 24 hours after she was taken and ran to a police officer for help. The second girl told a similar tale after being arrested during a routine Oakland police sting of prostitutes on International Boulevard. The second girl was held by Turner for about a week, Carney said.

The two girls told police and testified during the trial that they had had troubled childhoods. They admitted being prostitutes and said they turned to the streets after being kicked out of their homes.

They said they were working as prostitutes when Turner drove up pretending to be a customer. After they got into the car, they said, he told them they were now his property and he drove them to Stockton.

The girls testified that Turner told them they could only escape if they paid a fee. That fee could be a straight $2,500 payment, which neither girl had, or an agreement to have sex with Turner and a $1,000 payment, Carney said.

If they didn't have the money, Carney said, Turner said he would force the girls to work as prostitutes for him.

While admitting that the two victims "were no angels," Carney said that Turner's actions were illegal and that the felonies he is charged with were created to ensure someone conducting such acts gets punished.

"These are not throwaway children," Carney said. "The law protects them against predators like the defendant."

Turner's defense attorney, Spencer Strellis, admitted his client "might not be someone you want to take home for dinner" but urged the jury to look beyond his client's appearance and focus on the facts of the case. Those facts, Strellis said, are based on the testimony of two "ladies" who admitted engaging in prostitution.

"This arguably was a labor dispute. The young ladies were playing the game," Strellis said. "What they do for a living is break the law. It's something you have to consider."

Carney argued that the two victims never would have stepped forward if the actions they said were committed against them were not true.

"She goes up to a police officer, she goes up to law enforcement to tell her story. That is something extraordinary," Carney said. "It takes courage."

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