Pimp Plaza and Hungarian Sex-Slaves: Florida Sees Wide Range of Prostitution Cases

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FSU Prof. Terry Coonan, pictured left. Photo: John McDonald

Updated with response from FL Rep. David Richardson and Gill Foundation. 

A case of a pimp building debt inside a Florida correctional facility was one of multiple topics discussed during a presentation last month in Tallahassee.

“He had made a career out of pimping women,” said Terry Coonan, an associate professor at Florida State University.

Coonan, who holds a Juris Doctorate, addressed the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida at the organization’s annual Tally Days conference. The featured luncheon speaker, Coonan described situations involving prostitution and forced labor contracts around the Sunshine State.

“When a number of his women got arrested and jailed for prostitution he would reach out and use them as recruiters,” Coonan said, describing a Marion County case. “Florida’s department of corrections didn’t realize that canteens accounts that these young women had anybody could put money in.”

Florida Representative David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) said canteen accounts are accounts that allow prisoners to purchase food and hygiene items. Richardson, who has spent the last two years auditing the state’s prison system, said canteen accounts are operated by a third party vendor and the contract is being revised and will go through a bidding process.  

In the case involving the Lowell Correctional Institute outside of Ocala, 75-year-old Richard Rawles was busted for essentially putting a down payment on prisoners.

“(Rawls) was putting money into these canteen accounts of young women who were typically in prison for a couple years for prostitution or a drug offense,” Coonan said. “He was actually building a debt that they would owe to him. He would tell them, ‘I’m going to wait for you the minute you get out of prison. I’m the only one that cares for you.’”

After they were released from prison, the victims were taken by Rawles to Orlando to a place investigators called “Pimp Plaza.” There, Coonan revealed, the women were beaten, drugged and forced into selling their bodies.

“These young women were forced into prostitution,” Coonan said. “All of them owed him (Rawles) several thousand dollars from their canteen accounts and he exploited that. They were in a Florida correctional facility and they were being set up for sex trafficking once they were released.”

Women are not the only victims of human trafficking, Coonan noted during his presentation. He also spoke of a Miami case involving young men from the central European nation of Hungary.

Prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle discovered a prostitution ring advertised on the gay dating website, PlanetRomeo.com

“They actually worked as male escorts in Hungary, but they were promised jobs doing the same thing here in the United States,” Coonan said, adding it was Hungarian policemen who arranged for the male escorts travel to Miami.

“Once they got them here,” Coonan said. “They were forced into repeated acts of gay sex and gay prostitution.”

Hungarian police officers “brutally exploited” these escorts, Coonan said and threatened to harm their families if they quit escorting.

On April 7, a Miami-Dade circuit court judge handed out hefty sentences to two men convicted of orchestrating the prostitution ring. The men, Gabor Acts and Viktor Berki, will each spend 25 years in prison, reports SFGN & the Miami Herald. It remains unclear in what country the men will serve their prison terms.

Related: Hungarian Men Found Guilty of Running Florida 'Gay Sex Slave Ring' Sentenced 

On the culture front, human trafficking is bringing together two different groups of people. In Colorado, the Gill Foundation, an LGBT philanthropic organization, and Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian policy institute, reportedly, joined forces to strengthen laws combatting human trafficking.

A person familiar with the situation told SFGN that Ted Trimpa, a longtime gay activist and lobbyist for Gill Foundation founder Tim Gill, worked with Daly and a coalition to fight human sex trafficking in Colorado. The person would not disclose their name due to the sensitivity of the topic, but told SFGN the coalition’s work resulted in a law being passed in Colorado to curtail human sex trafficking. 

Focus on the Family Chief Executive Officer Jim Daly described the peacemaking as “the first step of many things they’d hope to do together particularly where it concerns the stability of families and the betterment of children.”

Daly is scheduled to speak at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, April 28, at the Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.  

Related: Fort Lauderdale Prayer Breakfast Angers LGBT Activists