In one of the more amusing cases of ‘grown up wrong’ publicized recently, it’s been quite curious to see the reaction in general versus the localized reaction to a criminal case of high school prostitution which became short-term national news. Somehow the local Florida presses placed the crime in question in a Sarasota location, while, elsewhere, utilizing a little bit of subtextual warfare, dateline and location were given as Venice, Florida, by the likes of England’s Daily Mail and People magazine. As it so happens, even the wrong side of the tracks here is pretty tony and decidedly middle class. It’s 19 miles from Venice where the average home costs $2m to Sarasota, where it’s $350,000. What a difference a few miles makes!
At any rate, in a crime that supposedly ’shocked’ students, teachers and parents in Venice, Florida, on Tuesday November 25, 2014, police charged Julian Mathena, 15, and Alexa Nicole De Armas, 17, with human trafficking. Essentially police have scores of pages downloaded from Ms. De Armas’ Facebook account, loaded with ra-ra recruitment dialog and negotiations with Johns for stated cash amounts and gifts of “good liquor” like Rémy-Martin VSOP. As Venice Police Captain Tim Mattmuller put it at a press conference. “You could see that the motivation was money, alcohol and drugs”.
Captain Mattmuller said his department was first made aware of the case after four female students confided to school administrators at Venice High that they had been asked to join a prostitution ring after various kinds of negotiations about access to marijuana and powdered cocaine were carried on through Snapchat and Kik messaging services.
The police believe they have details of many conversations between De Armas and potential business partners that detailed the costs for transactions. Various kinds of sex acts were priced on a menu of between $50 from a blow-job and $100 for ‘deflowering virginity’ for which the prostitutes would receive 40 percent of the fees. “Why pimp out old hoes when I have fresh young hoes I can give up for money?” De Armas boasted in one message. “Long as I’m getting paid, I’m trafficking all these bitches.”
Police were led to John Michael Mosher, of no fixed abode who is a dishwasher in a Venice restaurant. Mosher, 21, police say, paid a 15-year-old girl $40 and a bottle of alcohol in return for sex. Detectives investigated the information that the school resource officers received, Mattmuller said, and they found out students from other Sarasota County schools were involved.
The fact that Ms. De Armas, who attends school in Sarasota, has been charged with human trafficking, rather than a lesser charge of pandering for prostitution, or soliciting clients for prostitution, which one might normally expect as a maximum for a felony for a first offense these are very serious charges. Indeed as, Anne Minicozzi, a veteran crime reporter told me, any charge involving ‘Human trafficking’ carries the connotation of white slavery and organized crime. Although I’m not necessarily advocating for public forgiveness of Ms. De Armas the stink of racial profiling and the old-fashioned idea of making a public example is impossible to avoid.
Indeed, as the photos published in the gossip press show, Ms. De Armas doesn’t seem to be blessed with much sense when it comes to ‘presenting’ herself on social media.
Police made sure to warn the local public that not all the shoes have dropped and that there may be more victims. With De Armas keeping another partner beyond Mathena who has yet to be named, the suspicion, until it’s proven otherwise, is that it’s somebody white, under-aged, female and from Venice. It’s still definitely unclear how many trysts were organized by the teens. “It doesn’t surprise us,” Mattmuller said. “It’s more disappointing than anything.”