3 arrested in prostitution of 14-year-old girl; 4th suspect sought

Warrant issued for fourth suspect

“The road to recovery is long, especially if it’s prolonged abuse and prolonged trafficking, but of course counseling helps and building up that self-esteem and working with a support system. Usually the consequences or fallout of that is the person just having a low self-worth and really feeling more like an object or someone’s possession.” RACHEaL HEBERT, executive director of the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center

Acting on a tip that a 14-year-old girl was being prostituted for drugs and money, Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies raided a Donaldsonville home Tuesday and arrested three people.

Deputies issued a warrant for a fourth suspect, Gregory Hardin, 28, when they couldn’t locate him.

The arrests were the culmination of a three-month investigation into allegations that the girl was being prostituted out of Lakeisha Marshall’s house at 1305 McKinley St., Donaldsonville, said Tony Bacala, chief deputy of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Investigators also said the teenager was taken to New Orleans and other south Louisiana cities for prostitution by two people, Trenace Tyler, 19, and Wendell Walker, 46, Bacala said.

“I’m not sure if it was only New Orleans, but New Orleans is one specific location that we know about,” Bacala said.

Bacala said he did not know how long the teen had been prostituted. She was removed from the home Tuesday and placed in state custody, he said.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a case of this nature,” said Bacala, a 36-year law enforcement veteran in Ascension Parish.

Marshall, 33, was booked into the Ascension Parish Jail on counts of prostitution of persons under the age of 18, soliciting for prostitutes and trafficking of children for sexual purposes, Bacala said.

Tyler, 607 Second St., and Walker, 500 W. Fourth St., both of Donaldsonville, each were booked on counts of criminal conspiracy to commit prostitution of persons under the age of 18, criminal conspiracy to commit soliciting for prostitutes and trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

Deputies also issued an arrest warrant for Hardin, who investigators say conspired with Marshall to prostitute the girl, Bacala said.

Hardin, 3836 Addis Lane, Addis, remains at large and is wanted for criminal conspiracy to commit soliciting for prostitutes, criminal conspiracy to commit prostitution with persons under the age of 18 and trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

Diane Singleton, 64, who has lived on McKinley Street near Marshall’s home for 10 years, said she had no idea about the alleged prostitution and trafficking happening down the street.

“I never saw some strange men drive by, I’ve never seen that,” Singleton said.

She said she knew the girl, but the teen never reached out to her, asked for help or gave her any reason to suspect that she was being prostituted.

Racheal Hebert, executive director of the Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response Center in Baton Rouge, said with quick intervention and good counseling, there is hope the girl can fully recover and move past the trauma and abuse.

“The road to recovery is long, especially if it’s prolonged abuse and prolonged trafficking, but, of course, counseling helps and building up that self-esteem and working with a support system,” she said.

“Usually the consequences or fallout of that is the person just having a low self-worth and really feeling more like an object or someone’s possession,” she said.

Tuesday’s arrests were just the latest in a series of sex trafficking cases in the Baton Rouge area.

On Dec. 6, East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested Travis Moore, 28, 6046 St. Katherine Ave., Baton Rouge, amid an undercover operation that targeted Internet prostitution at a Baton Rouge hotel.

According to authorities, detectives encountered women at the hotel involved in commercial sex trafficking and who had been subjected to force, coercion and pimp control.

The records for that case have been sealed.

In another case, seven people — six men and one woman — have been arrested over the past few weeks in the repeated rape and sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl that occurred in both East and West Baton Rouge parishes that possibly began in the spring, though court records are inconclusive.

The victim’s mother, whose name has not been released, was issued a summons Friday for contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.

Emily Molly Chenevert, the national awareness director for Trafficking Hope, said Wednesday that in most cases, there is a simple reason why someone would make the conscious decision to traffic or prostitute another person — money.

“There is a demand for the sale of sex,” she said. “You want to think of someone being in some sort of deep psychological thing, but the truth is it’s about money and it’s about the demand of one person.”

She said human trafficking is the No. 2 global enterprise in the world, behind drugs, and the United Nations estimates human trafficking is a $32 billion business.

The average age of trafficking victims is between 11 and 13 years old, she said.

“It’s not just something that affects (people) internationally,” Chenevert said. “I feel like up until this point, so many people have just assumed that trafficking means you have to go across borders, nation to nation, and this is a perfect example of someone being trafficked out of their own home.”

Advocate staff writer Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this report.