Three people were arrested on human trafficking charges after they forced a 13-year-old runaway girl into prostitution and exotic dancing, authorities said.
Vilbert Jean, 36, Marlene San Vincente, 22, and DeWayne Ward, 18, were all charged with human trafficking, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, lewd and lascivious conduct on a person less than 16 and delivering a controlled substance to a person under 18, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office said Wednesday.
According to the State Attorney's Office, the girl ran away from home on Dec. 10 and was found by her mother on Jan. 6 in the area of North Miami Avenue and Northeast 55th Street.
The girl had been forced into prostitution for the benefit of Jean, San Vincente and Ward, and then forced to dance as an exotic nude dancer after she refused to continue to engage in prostitution, the State Attorney's Office said.
“A lot of these victims of human trafficking, sexual exploitation are young girls that live in our own communities, and they don't travel thousands of miles to get here. They are our girls,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.
San Vincente supervised and tutored the girl on how to work the nude club scene and how to maximize her tips and earnings, which were also handed over to her exploiters, the State Attorney's Office said.
At some point, the girl was forced to dance at Club Madonna where she earned more than $1,000 and was forced to hand over the earnings to her handlers, authorities said.
Richard Wolfe, an attorney for Club Madonna, said San Vincente was a dancer at the club on and off for two years.
"We don't know how the alleged minor showed up at the club. We understand and been told that this Marlene brought her in," Wolfe said.
He added: "I don't know what this person looks like. As I said we're fully investigating and we intend to get to the bottom of it. So it's hard for me to comment on facts that are unknown to us."
Club Madonna's owner, Leroy Griffith, said he had no idea the victim had been forced to dance there.
“We looked through the files, we can't find no contract, so everybody that works here has a contract and rules and regulations that work here," Griffith said. "And so somehow unfortunately she got in there with the club.”
The arrests were made by the State Attorney's Office's Human Trafficking Task Force, which was working with the Miami and Miami Beach Police Departments.
"This sad case shows how quickly human traffickers locate their young prey and turn them from children into cash producing machines," Fernandez Rundle said in a statement. "Sadly, to human traffickers, destroying a helpless child’s life is unimportant when compared to the consistent flow of cash into their pockets. The people of this community will not tolerate this. With the help of my Human Trafficking Task Force and my specialized Human Trafficking prosecutors, we will end this hideous practice."
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has partnered with the state's Department of Transportation to raise awareness on Florida roadways.
"Raising awareness about the prevalence of human trafficking is key to combating this horrific crime. By expanding our initiative to include posters in Florida’s rest areas, I am hopeful that more people will report suspected cases to local law enforcement," Bondi said in a statement.