15 Accused in Prostitution Ring

The Associated Press, August 13, 1999
By David Scott

ST. LOUIS (AP) - For years, a prostitution ring lured girls and young women from across the Midwest into a life of illicit servitude and forced them to remain there with beatings, torture and rapes, the FBI says.

After a two-year investigation, authorities on Thursday unsealed a 44-count federal indictment accusing 15 members of the Minneapolis-based "Evans family'' of crimes ranging from money laundering to illegal transport of minors.

Nine people were arrested Thursday and six remain at large, said William Eubanks of the FBI's St. Louis office. Police also seized five homes and six luxury cars, including three Mercedes Benz.

Since 1982, members of the ring - eight of whom are related - allegedly enticed girls as young as 14 to work for massage parlors and escort services, the FBI said. The girls were often runaways from the Midwest, though some came from regular homes, authorities say.

The "family'' would force the girls into road trips to 23 other states and Canada, earning an estimated $1 million annually for the ring, said Detective Joe Delia of the Maryland Heights, Mo. police, which helped the FBI break the ring.

"This is as close to modern slavery as you can get,'' Delia said.

The investigation began in 1997 when police became suspicious after stopping two prostitutes near St. Louis, authorities said. Within two months, the FBI was asked to help.

The charges were filed here because the ring was discovered in the St. Louis area.

Investigators have identified at least 50 women involved in the operation over the past 17 years, including 27 involved as minors.

Most were lured into the ring at shopping centers and dance clubs, seduced by initially kind treatment only to be later submitted to beatings, torture and rape, authorities said.

"The Evanses would place ads for girls (to be) exotic dancers or lingerie models and go anywhere young kids hung out,'' said police Sgt. Andy Schmidt. Later, he said, "they would also shame them into staying, telling them that their families would never take them back because of what they did. It was almost like a cult.''

Some escaped after a few weeks, but others remained in the ring for up to seven years, Eubanks said.

One 15-year-old prostitute told an investigator: "I'd rather be dead than doing what I'm doing.''

Authorities say the family used cell phones and pagers to keep track of the prostitutes. One girl told police she took her pager to middle school.

"They were very skilled at picking them up when they were most vulnerable,'' Minneapolis police Detective Andy Schmidt said. "It's kind of like a cult, they break them down. It's brain-washing.''

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