The mother of 'Stacy' points to the house where her daughter and niece 'Cara' were held, while Cara's father looks on.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY
Second of three parts
Tire iron in hand, an enraged man charged toward a southwest Toledo house.
He did not know what might be behind the front door -- guns, weapons, or even a man as angry as he.
He did know he wasn't leaving until he got what he came for. Tired of waiting for the Toledo police, he was still reeling from what Michigan cops had told him just an hour ago.
Pimps, hookers, beatings, forced sex, and captive teens.
Shouting, he pounded on the door.
"Give me my daughter!"
Not every parent whose child is forced into prostitution gets a chance to rescue her. And very, very few of the teens who wind up in the sex trade get there after being plucked off a busy street while out walking with a friend.
Still, a two-year U.S. Justice Department probe of underage prostitution revealed a nationwide problem of such magnitude that it took many police and social-service agencies by surprise.
"Innocence Lost," the cooperative investigation by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies so far has saved 200 minors from the sex trade and led to more than 500 arrests.
The federal probe also revealed a "loose confederacy" of Toledo men who, according to investigators, have recruited local girls as young as 12 years old -- shuttling them across the country and forcing them into the sex trade.
Authorities say pimps typically target emotionally vulnerable girls -- those living in abusive and neglectful homes or ping-ponging in foster care.
They're lured by attention, promises of glamour and travel, or something as simple as a place to sleep and pretty new clothes. Others grow up in it, their mothers or fathers already part of the business.
But then there were two girls -- cousins and best friends -- who one afternoon in May just wanted a Frosty. Because they're minors and sex-crime victims, we'll call them Cara and Stacy.
"I was cooking dinner, which wasn't going to be for about another hour, so they asked if they could go," Stacy's mother told The Blade.
It was raining that day, and near Front and Main streets in East Toledo, a woman driving a white Lincoln Continental pulled alongside the girls. The man in the passenger seat looked familiar, like a friend's father.
"It was the sort of thing where one of the girls asked 'Are you so-and-so?' And he went along with it. 'Yeah, I'm him,' " said Craig Raisanen, a Michigan police detective who would later investigate the case.
The rain began to fall harder. The cousins, ages 14 and 15, took the adults up on their offer of a ride. The girls later told police they picked up some Chinese takeout and went over to a Downing Avenue house.
The man who owns the two-story, red brick house is Deric Willoughby. Police said he lived there with Jennifer "Cashmere" Huskey, 23 -- who'd been arrested before for prostitution in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania -- and Brandy Shope, 18, who is known as "Envy."
Once inside, police said, Willoughby locked the door and set an alarm system.
"It was made clear to them they weren't free to leave," said Detective Raisanen. "They were told, 'This is your house now. Deric is your daddy, and that's how you'll refer to him, and this is what you'll be expected to do, and if you don't comply, there's going to be consequences,' arguably for the rest of their lives."
The trio separated the cousins. One girl was taken to the basement, the other upstairs. It was the start of "hours of indoctrination," Detective Raisanen said.
The girls were sold for sex at least a dozen times over the next 10 days, as their families filed a police report and scoured the city.
But the girls were never left alone, always accompanied by either Willoughby, Cashmere, or Envy, who police said also ran an Internet escort service.
Only once did the girls try to escape, Stacy's mother said.
Federal officials said Willoughby caught them, throwing Stacy into the dining room table. Cara later told her aunt that Willoughby dragged her upstairs by her hair, "and then he kicked her down the steps, and then he pulled her up by her hair and kicked her down the steps again."
Their 10 days in captivity amounted to a crash course in the sex trade. According to a federal indictment, the cousins were told "how to behave [and] solicit customers."
They were given clothes and fake identities, and told authorities they were taken to hotels around Toledo and forced to perform sex acts. An adult always watched and collected payment.
Cara and Stacy learned quickly not to cry or speak without permission. They later told their families that whenever Willoughby drove them in his car he kept them hidden, ordering them to keep their heads between their knees.
When one girl broke a rule, they told authorities, it was her cousin who took the beating.
"When I first got into [investigating] it," Detective Raisanen conceded, "there was some skepticism involved. You can't believe they'd be so naive, can't believe someone could brainwash them so quickly. But the more involved I've gotten, you really do see how this works, and how it is possible for this to have happened."
On May 23, 10 days after they set out for a Frosty, the girls were taken for the first time to a truck stop off I-94 in Washtenaw County, near Ann Arbor, Mich.
Authorities were there. They'd gotten a complaint about hookers at the truck stop, and one deputy found Stacy and Envy inside a rig with a trucker.
Deputy's 'gut instinct'
Stacy stuck to the script about her fake age and name, but the deputy didn't buy it. For starters, she looked too young.
"I really respect the sheriff's department in Washtenaw County," Cara's father said. "The sheriff's department said it's just not right. They had no reason [to detain her], but they had a gut instinct."
Without proof of prostitution, the deputies released Envy and the trucker. Once Stacy was away from them, she told them the truth. Because state lines were crossed, deputies called the FBI.
They also called Stacy's family.
"It was a long ride. I swear to God it took 20 hours to get there," recounted Stacy's mother.
Stacy's mother and uncle met with detectives at the University of Michigan Hospital, where deputies took the 15-year-old to be examined.
"They told us everything," Stacy's mom said, "and we were thinking, 'Where's [Cara]?' "
Stacy thought she knew. Soon, the reunited family was flying south on U.S. 23, headed to Downing Avenue.
"I must have been going 90 [mph] to get back," Cara's father said. "As soon as I hit the Ohio line, I had simmered down. I called 911. They said, 'We'll send someone out.' "
They waited for Toledo police in their van outside the Downing Avenue home, joined soon by Cara's mother.
They called 911 again. Then they called the Toledo FBI office, but Cara's father couldn't wait anymore.
From the back of the van, he grabbed the tire iron. He marched to the front door, covered with five security bars, and punched out the windows.
The alarm system blared. Someone screamed. Upstairs, a window shattered.
Cara's dad reached through a broken pane of glass, unlocked the door, went inside, and gambled on a bluff.
'I have a gun'
"I'm screaming, 'I have a gun. Everybody down.' I just had to save my daughter," he said. "I didn't care what happened."
What followed was a chaotic melee between three parents and the house's three adult occupants, as Willoughby allegedly shoved Cara out a second-story window. Police, arriving a short time later, untangled the bloodied adults, sending two parents to the hospital and the three Downing residents to jail.
These days, Cara and Stacy's parents won't say where the girls are. But they say they're doing better and they're safer living outside Toledo.
"I just go on the bits and pieces my daughter has told me. I'm sure her counselor knows more than I do," said Stacy's mother.
The case was turned over to U.S. attorneys. The Downing trio was indicted Dec. 14, accused of two counts of sexual trafficking of children; two counts of interstate transportation of minors for prostitution, and conspiracy.
Two days later, the Justice Department announced the results of their "Innocence Lost" probe -- a string of indictments against 31 men and women accused of running unrelated teenage prostitution rings.
Cara's dad said he feels fortunate. The girls in the other rings were moved around to other cities.
"Once I found out how big this was, well, I just feel blessed to have my daughter again," he said.
Contact Robin Erb at: email@example.com or 419-724-6133.