Local News

Saturday, Feb 16 2013 08:00 PM

Grand jury indicts alleged pimp on additional charges

BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

Additional charges have been levelled in a human trafficking case in which court documents claim a pimp and two of his prostitutes took a 15-year-old Bakersfield girl to Reno to do sex work.

A Nevada grand jury on Wednesday indicted Vernon McCullum III, also known as "Fifth," on charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, sex trafficking, promoting prostitution of children, production of child pornography and illegal transportation of a minor for prostitution or other illegal sexual activity, according to court records.

McCullum had previously been indicted on only the last charge.

McCullum's alleged prostitutes Shannell Smith (aka "Cream") and Keisha Cole were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking, sex trafficking and promoting prostitution of children. Cole was also indicted on charges of production of child pornography, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors branded McCullum a "gorilla pimp" in other court documents.

"In the prostitution subculture, (a gorilla pimp) is the worst type of pimp because such a pimp uses force and violence to control his prostitutes," the court records filed in Nevada said.

The motion for detention filed on Feb. 5 revealed more details about what happened to the girl and the roles Smith and Cole played in the case.

The motion said McCullum recruited the girl to work for him as a prostitute on Jan. 8, then drove her to Nevada in his green sedan along with Smith and Cole the next day.

Smith is pregnant with McCullum's child and is believed to be his highest-ranking prostitute, the court document said.

"(A pimp's top-ranking prostitute) is responsible for helping recruit new prostitutes for the pimp, teaching them the rules of 'the game,' helping to control them, and running the day-to-day operations of the pimp's prostitution enterprise," the motion said.

Cole is McCullum's cousin, court records said.

According to the case's criminal complaint, the girl told investigators that Smith approached her about working as a prostitute with her and McCullum and the girl agreed, thinking she would still be working in the Bakersfield area.

The girl had sex with McCullum at a local motel and asked him to take her to school the next morning, but he took her to Reno instead, the court records said.

McCullum gave Cole money to rent a room at the Showboat Inn in Reno and had Smith and Cole take sexually explicit photos of the teen to be posted in an online prostitution ad, the motion said. Smith answered the calls from the number listed on the ad because the girl "sounded 'too young,'" the court records said.

The teen had to give the money from her "prostitution dates" to Smith or McCullum. The money was kept from the girl to make sure she couldn't escape and McCullum destroyed her cell phone so family and friends couldn't reach her, the report said.

"At one point, (McCullum) became angry with (the victim) and struck her. He hit her so hard that it knocked her to the ground causing her to hit her head and suffer injuries," the court record said.

The teenager was rescued on Jan. 15 after Bakersfield police alerted Reno investigators to the escort ad. The "Innocence Lost Task Force" comprised of members from the Reno Police Department and the FBI found the girl, as well as McCullum and Smith at the hotel.

"Although (McCullum) claimed he didn't know (the victim) 'from a fresh can of paint,' he admitted to investigators that he transported (her) from California to Reno in his car. Other witness statements confirm that (McCullum) is a pimp, (McCullum) recruited W.D. to work for him and he transported her to Reno," the motion said.

The document said McCullum is from a gang centered in Fresno and has a long criminal record. The motion said Reno police had investigated McCullum in another human sex trafficking case in May 2012 in which he and another male allegedly trafficked two 18-year-old girls to Reno.

"(The victims were) allegedly beaten by (McCullum) to force them to engage in prostitution and to punish them after they had contact with local law enforcement," the motion said.

That investigation is still open, according to the court records.

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