August 6, 2012

A Sordid Scam

Two Receive Life Sentences for Preying on Aspiring Models

Digital Camera as Evidence in Case

A digital camera is documented as evidence in the case.

Some of the aspiring young models thought they were getting the chance of a lifetime when they showed up in South Florida to audition for a man they believed to be a legitimate talent scout. Instead, they were drugged and raped on camera—and the resulting videos were sold on the Internet.

The two men responsible for this depraved scheme—one a former police officer and the other a self-described porn star—were each sentenced to 12 consecutive life terms in prison earlier this year, thanks in part to the investigative efforts of Special Agent Alexis Carpinteri, Det. Nikki Fletcher of the Miramar Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

“These are probably two of the worst offenders I have ever seen,” said Carpinteri, who works in our Miami office. “There were many more victims than the multiple women who were represented at trial.”

Beginning in 2006, if not before, the subjects used Internet modeling sites as their “hunting grounds” to lure potential victims, Carpinteri said. They understood the industry well enough to impersonate representatives from major multinational companies.

The young women, many aged 18 to 22, agreed to come to Miami believing they were auditioning for a commercial for a prominent liquor company. They were persuaded to come alone because they were told family or boyfriends would be a distraction. The former police officer, Lavont Flanders, Jr., “was not stupid,” Det. Fletcher said. “He knew how to manipulate people, and he could be charming.”

The women were told they would be doing a test shoot in which they would have to drink the liquor they would be advertising. But the alcohol was laced with a date-rape drug that made them extremely compliant and often left them with no memories of what had happened to them. After the drugs took effect, the women were encouraged to sign model release forms.

Based on those consent forms, Carpinteri said, “The subjects thought they were going to get away with it.” Initially, investigators and prosecutors were “disturbed by the videos” because it appeared the victims were willing participants. But the raw footage told a different story. “It was clear the women were drugged and often barely conscious,” Carpinteri said.

“Because of their memory loss, a lot of the victims swore that nothing had happened,” she added, “until we showed them the videos.” Other women woke up in their cars the next morning bleeding, covered in vomit, and disoriented. Some notified police.

In 2007, Flanders and his partner, Emerson Callum, were arrested and charged by the state of Florida with multiple counts, including sexual assault and distribution of a controlled substance. Released on bond pending trial, the pair eventually began victimizing women again.

That’s when Carpinteri and Fletcher began working on the case to painstakingly unravel the scam. They identified and interviewed victims from various locations and pieced together evidence from police reports, rape treatment center examinations, DNA results, and cell phone records to help build a case for federal prosecutors. The subjects were indicted federally in 2011 and later convicted by a jury of sexual battery, human trafficking, and other charges.

“This was a difficult case,” Fletcher said, “but it had a good outcome. It’s very satisfying to know that these two individuals will never do this to anyone again.”

- Press release