This is part of an ongoing Blade investigation into teens exploited for sex
Berto knew her from the neighborhood.
She was a young hooker. Every now and then, he'd give her a ride somewhere, and maybe a sliver of rock cocaine he'd filched from home.
One day, she got in his car and looked him up and down approvingly.
"Bitches," she declared, "should be paying you."
By the end of the night, Berto had made his first "pimp dollar."
She was about 20. He was 16.
"Later that night I picked her up and took her to work at the rest area on I-75 in Michigan. She came back to me with a little over $300," said Berto, a Toledo man known in court records as Wayne Banks, Jr.
Some might be surprised that a teenager not old enough to graduate from high school could be a pimp in "the game."
But those who knew him might instead have wondered what took so long.
"Born to a father and mother in 'the game,' I wasn't just exposed at an early age, I was conceived in the process of it," Banks said.
"Had it not been for 'the game,' Wayne Robert Banks, Jr. ... wouldn't have been born."
His parents -- Wayne Banks, Sr., a self-confessed pimp, and Joyce Tucker, a convicted prostitute -- never did serious jail time on sex-trade charges.
Neither did Earl Banks, Sr., "Berto's" grandfather, whose son said he dabbled in pimping.
But the family's third-generation pimp, now 28, is in prison for 40 years.
It's an unprecedented sentence that signals the federal government's new, tougher stance on sex trafficking.
Officials said the junior Banks was part of an often violent, nationwide sex-trade ring that preyed on young girls. One defendant -- not Banks -- allegedly swapped crack cocaine for a 12-year-old girl.
Last year, Banks pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., to interstate sex trafficking of a 17-year-old Toledo girl, intimidating a witness, and conspiracy.
Federal prosecutors said his sentencing ended "a sordid chapter in the lives of many young women who were used by Banks to sell themselves in support of his lavish lifestyle."
One of his prostitutes, now 22, remembered meeting Banks: "All the jewelry, the rings, the hair, the attitude. ... He had on a white fur coat with a fur hat to match it."
At the heart of Banks' eventual downfall was Jessica Klempner, a 17-year-old Toledo prostitute walking on a Pensacola street. She didn't look right to a passing sheriff's deputy, and she later said Banks beat her because she had wanted to go home.
Hadn't his father tried to warn him? In a recent interview, Wayne Banks, Sr., said he mentored his son early on.
"I used to tell Berto ...'Try to get you all white girls, and try to get you girls over the age 18. Don't [mess] with no kids.' "
Banks will likely remember Jessica, the strawberry-blonde hooker who ended his career in Florida.
He also remembers the Toledo-area prostitute who, all those years ago, helped start that career: "That woman didn't know anything about my past or my parents, yet she told me something I'd been hearing all my life."
'Before 10, I'd seen it all'
Wayne Banks, Jr., considers himself a gentleman.
He taught his "girls" safety tips for their "dates."
He had rules against stealing from tricks. He discouraged hardcore drugs.
The man who feds say threatened to "skin" two young Toledo prostitutes if they went to the cops argues that good pimping is "to convince, not control."
"A true and correct pimp is one of principle," he said. "There's a code of honor that embodies character, understanding, integrity, respect, and goals. Ultimately, a pimp is a gentleman, one of leisure, a lover, friend, and confidant."
Even the feds say "the game" is a subculture not easily understood by outsiders. Its rules may be rigid -- its definitions aren't.
In interviews describing their time with Banks, three of his prostitutes described him as charismatic and good-looking. They said they were neither forced nor controlled, yet all three described violence.
Said one, known on the street as "Peaches:" "I got smacked. No, I never got hit."
Another said she saw Banks beat three other women in the brief time she worked for him. And yet, she reasoned, Banks didn't hit his prostitutes "as long as they didn't do anything stupid."
"He always had weed for us to smoke and stuff like that. He'd give us spending money if we wanted to go get something to eat or wanted a new outfit. He was real nice," she said.
Prison officials repeatedly denied The Blade's request to interview Banks in person. But in three brief phone interviews and 42 pages of letters (edited here for space and grammar), he talked about his life in "the game" -- both as father's apprentice and out on his own.
Juvenile court records, which Banks gave permission to The Blade to review, confirm his accounts of a nomadic, chaotic childhood.
"Shootings, stabbings, drug dealing, stealing, robbing, credit card frauds, gambling, drinking, smoking, sex, and what have you," Banks wrote. "Before 10, I'd seen it all ... most people don't realize kids pick up things early."
He moved nine times between his first and second-grade years. After his parents split up, he and his father traipsed around California, staying at cheap motels and cooking meals on an electric skillet. Sometimes they drove custom cars; other times, they scrounged for gas money.
Transience took its toll.
From a 1992 Lucas County Juvenile Court intake sheet:
Banks "wasn't in class enough to evaluate," although he seemed "somewhat brighter than his school records would indicate."
"I knew all the pimps and prostitutes, heard the language, saw the look, and lived off the proceeds. I wasn't just a spectator in the bleachers," wrote Banks, "I was a up-and-coming player, sitting on the bench waiting my turn to play."
A 1993 juvenile court referee's assessment:
Child did well on probation. ... Little parental support. Father highly invested in criminal lifestyle. Mother may be using.
"My father was a very dapper, fly individual," wrote Banks. "I remember going in the bars downtown on Monroe Street when all the pimps and prostitutes used to hang out down there. ... Even in my preschool years I was regarded as an up-and-coming pimp."
From a 1992 juvenile court intake sheet:
Parental supervision: Minimal/ineffective. Mother's attitude toward youth: Rejecting. Father's attitude toward youth: Rejecting. Family conflict: Major problems.
It seems totally amazing ... that Wayne is achieving at his present level in school with the frequent moves and periods of non-attendance.
"My mother wasn't what you call a 'flatbacker,' " Banks wrote, defining the term as "a prostitute that only has sex for money."
Instead, he said, "she was a pick-pocket and thief."
Even in the face of multiple prostitution convictions more than a quarter century ago, Banks' mother, Joyce Tucker, was emphatic when talking with The Blade:
"I was a hustler all my life. But a prostitute? No."
Either way, Banks believes that over the years, "the game" robbed his mother of her spirit.
"I learned from her mistakes as well as my father's. ... I strived to be everything to my girls that I thought dudes should have been to my mom."
Banks and federal prosecutors agree on just two things: He's a pimp, and he's smart.
Authorities interviewed Banks at length. They remarked on his candor and intelligence.
Said FBI agent Chon Taylor: "It seemed to me that in his own mind [was], 'This is what I did. I got caught. It's the game and I'll pay the price.' "
By age 19, Banks -- already an accomplished car thief as a preteen -- had masterminded a sophisticated, multistate car theft ring that specialized in Buicks and Cadillacs.
For that, Banks spent more than four years in prison.
By the time he was free again, he had an accounting degree he'd earned behind bars and a new plan: "I had done damn near everything else in the streets but truly pimped. I knew it was my calling."
Banks was "ready to travel and see the countryside," he said, and he knew just whom to recruit: women who were "very sexually active and/or money hungry."
Banks met Peaches, who would become his "bottom bitch," or most trusted prostitute, at a Toledo club. They wanted the same thing out of life.
In an interview recently in the central-city home where she's raising two of the seven children Banks has with several women, Peaches said that with him, she "felt like I lived better."
"When I [prostituted] with him, I enjoyed it," she said. "I traveled and it wasn't just work. I went to Six Flags [amusement park] and everywhere. I went shopping and everything."
Peaches lied to Banks, she said, telling him she was 18 when she was really just 17.
For his part, Banks said that Peaches -- who designed a T-shirt with "Free Berto" across the chest -- is "the best thing to ever happen to me."
Soon after they met, Peaches had "Berto Girl" tattooed in blue ink along the right side of her neck.
A second woman soon joined them, and Banks said the trio "stretched out on the highway for the long haul."
It took awhile to find the money-making truck stops, but by 2003, Banks said he'd seen more than 30 states.
"I learned about popular places to work mostly through other prostitutes or tricks who my girls came in contact with.
"Yet just as pimps were hearing about me, I was hearing about them too. The streets are always talking."
By 2004, the feds were listening.
Unbeknownst to Banks, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies had launched a massive investigation into prostitution rings that trafficked juveniles in sex nationwide.
Among Toledo pimps targeted by the "Innocence Lost" campaign was Wayne Banks, Jr., who last spring was in Florida with Jessica and at least two other women.
Around dinner time on March 20, 2005, a deputy in Escambia County stopped a young girl he'd noticed flagging down a passing car. He put Jessica in the backseat of his patrol car.
Within minutes, police arrested two more of Banks' women, both age 20 and with Toledo connections, who walked past.
Within hours, the FBI was called because Jessica was underage. Days later, an agent filled them in about Banks and "Innocence Lost."
"[The agent] said we've stepped into all these names from this thing out of Toledo. This big investigation -- they know this guy," recalled Escambia County Sheriff's Detective Troy Brown. "From that point on, it was more the FBI and the U.S. attorney."
Threats, high stakes
Banks never went to trial.
But in federal court documents, the government offered a glimpse into its profile of the Toledo pimp.
It was a stark contrast to Banks' portrayal of pimps as "cordial," "courteous," and "graceful."
Much of the evidence against Banks was gleaned from jailhouse phone calls he made in the days after his arrest -- even though a tape recording warns inmates their calls could be monitored or recorded.
Still, Banks telephoned "associates," the government claimed. In a series of three-way calls, he gave orders to threaten witnesses against him, saying "you gotta think about them feds [who] might try to come through and swoop you all up."
Referring to one of the three women arrested days earlier, he said: "You all got to stay on top of [her]. Can't let that bitch slip."
He also ordered that someone call Kim Klempner, Jessica's mother, "so you all can get in her ear."
On the front porch of her Toledo home last week, Ms. Klempner said a man had called her twice, telling her "to get my daughter to quit lying or she was going to get hurt."
When U.S. District Court Judge Lacey Collier in Pensacola gave Banks 40 years last fall, it was at that time the longest federal prison sentence ever handed down on pimp-related charges.
All of this will make the stakes even higher in Harrisburg, Pa., where more than a dozen of Banks' alleged co-conspirators are scheduled for trial Oct. 2 on sex-trafficking charges.
Several of the men face possible life sentences.
In his Old South End home recently, Wayne Banks, Sr., took a call from the Hazelton, W.Va., prison where his son is serving time.
He hung up the phone, complaining about his son's "immoral" sentence.
"He ain't corrupted those girls. Those girls were already corrupted," insisted the elder Banks, his head shaking from side to side as family members agreed with him.
"They just happened to fall into his lap because he was gorgeous."