Crime

Florida cops arrest 7 in human trafficking case after boy held prisoner, sexually battered

Seven adults face charges after two teenagers were found last year in a Florida home after they were lured there and investigators say one teen was held and sexually battered for about a year.

In an announcement Monday with St. Petersburg police chief Anthony Holloway and Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, police said the arrests were made after a months-long human trafficking investigation.

Police went to a trailer home at 4000 24th St. N. on May 9, 2018, after being contacted by Louisiana law enforcement. Louisiana officials told police a missing 17-year-old boy may be in the home after being lured there through an online gaming app, Discord.

Investigators believe the adults drove to Louisiana to pick up the teen and brought him to St. Petersburg.

When police went to the mobile home, not only did they find the 17-year-old but they discovered a now 16-year-old boy as well, who they believe was living there with four adults for about a year, according to a news release posted to Facebook.

One of the men living in the home, Mark Dennis, told police he was the 16-year-old’s father, but investigators found that not to be true.

The 16-year-old had been reported missing from Marion County. Police said the boy was befriended about 11 months earlier by a family acquaintance, Eleanor Faye McGlamory.

McGlamory then introduced him to Dennis and his husband Andrew Dennis, who lived in St. Petersburg, according to police.

A note from the teen saying not to look for him was found by his mother in May 2017.

The teen, who was 15 at the time, was lured to the home with the promise of a “better life,” according to police.

He was moved into what police called a filthy trailer where he lived with four men — identified as Mark and Andrew Dennis, Curtis Gruwell and Michael Schwartz — and was used as a sex slave by them and two associates, Michael Blasdel and JR Gauthier. The teen did not go to school and did not receive medical care, according to police.

“The victim was living on a small mattress with no bedding, surrounded by animals, animal cages and animal feces,” Major Mark Hensley with the St. Petersburg Police Department told WFLA.

Police said Monday, “The victim is receiving specialized trauma-informed care designed for victims of human trafficking and is thriving.”

Police do not believe the 17-year-old from Louisiana was sexually abused, according to Spectrum Bay News 9.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the 17-year-old was returned home and the 16-year-old is in a safe location.

Arrested Monday and facing charges are:

  • Mark E. Dennis, 52, of Lehigh Acres, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody, sexual battery with a child under age 16;
  • Andrew B. Dennis, 45, of Lehigh Acres, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody, sexual battery with a child under age 16;
  • Michael W. Schwartz, 51, of Lehigh Acres, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody;
  • Curtis L. Gruwell, 34, of Lehigh Acres, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody;
  • Michael R. Blasdel, 36, of St. Petersburg, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody, transmission of material harmful to minors to a minor and two counts of sexual battery with a child under age 16;
  • JR Gauthier, 29, of St. Petersburg, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody, sexual battery with a child under age 16;

  • Eleanor F. McGlamory, 56, of Silver Springs, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, interference with custody.

Police said Mark and Andrew Dennis, Gruwell and Schwartz moved from St. Petersburg to Lehigh Acres after police contacted them in May 2018.

Tuesday morning, police announced Gruwell turned himself in to authorities.

“This case is just one example of how I will work daily with my Office of Statewide Prosecution and Florida’s great law enforcement officers to combat human trafficking and rescue survivors. The teenage victim in this case was lured away from his family with promises of a better life. Instead, he was moved into a filthy trailer and used as a slave for nearly a year. As a mother, I cannot even begin to express how disturbing the facts of this case are to me,” Attorney General Moody said in a statement to ABC Action News.

“We’re pleading with parents and guardians today. Please go home. Look at what your kid are doing on-line,” Police Chief Anthony Holloway told WFLA.

Micah Washinski with Trafficking Free Zone, a program to help end sexual exploitation, told ABC Action News that “Victims many times seem fearful or anxious, unusually fearful of law enforcement, avoid eye contact and not be able to speak for themselves . They have somebody else always speaking for them. Those are some signs that you might come in contact with regarding a potential victim.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a toll-free hotline that serves victims and survivors of human trafficking. The hotline is available to answer calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 or by text at 233733. The National Hotline can also be accessed by emailing help@humantraffickinghotline.org, submitting a tip online, and visiting the website at humantraffickinghotline.org.

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