Three people are under arrest in Pinellas County after deputies said they were prostituting underage girls.
According to the sheriff's office, deputies were looking for a suspect at the Knights Inn on 54th Avenue North in St. Pete on Sunday when they found two underage girls in a room with an adult male, later identified as Donell Jenkins, 21. Deputies also spotted marijuana in plain view.
Detectives say the girls, ages 15 and 16, were engaging in prostitution at the direction of Jenkins and two other suspects, identified as Stacy Jo Bumgarner, 28, and Antron Smith, 30.
According to investigators, the victims had been in the company of the three suspects for approximately five to seven days.
Detectives believe Jenkins provided security to the victims and was instructed by Smith to recruit girls for the purposes of prostitution. Bumgarner allegedly assisted with the wording and posting of online ads and even told the girls how much to charge and what to do when their 'customers' arrived.
All three face several charges.
From FOX 13's Deborah Bowden:
They're vulnerable. They're desperate and they're scared. Young girls with nowhere to turn, often end up on the street where they become easy targets.
"They're all out here in different ages. I've seen them out here at 13, 14 years old," says Steven Flachsmann, who lives along 34th Street in St. Petersburg.
Pinellas detectives arrested three suspects, who are accused of forcing 15 and 16 year old girls into prostitution in motels along St. Pete's 34th Street corridor.
"It's a form of slavery, really. There's control, psychological control, threats and abuse to get these girls to do this," Gualtieri said.
"She's told no sex acts are off limits. You'll do whatever they want. You're going to be paid by time, not sex act so as long as he wants to stay here and as long as he pays for the time, then he gets to do whatever he wants to you. This is horrific stuff," the sheriff added.
Detectives arrested Stacy Jo Bumgarner and Donell Jenkins at the Knights Inn, along with the alleged ring leader, Antron Smith, who calls himself the "trick master."
"Smith's 6 and 9-year-old children were with him in that room. Those children have been taken into custody by our child protective services. They've been removed from his custody. Obviously he's in jail," Gualtieri said.
Detectives believe there are at least five other girls who still haven't been found. But even the two girls who were rescued are now in foster care because the sheriff says their families don't want them.
"You've got a 15 year old who doesn't have a place to live. Her parents don't want her back because they're frustrated with the situation. She's forced to engage in prostitution and she's told that if she doesn't follow the rules, she's going to be beaten," Gualtieri said.
And sadly, those who live here, say she won't be the last.
"Sure it bothers me to see a little 12 or 13 year old girl try to sell herself for drugs. There's too much. There's too many. It'll never be under control," Flachsmann says.
Investigators say the suspects posted ads for underage sex on Backpage.com. They say the website is a haven for sex traffickers and prostitution.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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