Published: June 11, 2010
The seamy underbelly of the sex business emerged in a Pinellas County courtroom this past week, with lurid tales of debauchery and sex slaves; of lewd acts for money and beatings and rape.
The only problem was the jury didn’t buy it. Colin Anthony Dyer, the 37-year-old man on trial, was acquitted of human trafficking and rape charges that could have landed him prison for 60 years. Two dancers testified against him, including his main accuser, 19-year-old Maggie Jacobs, who said he held her against her will, beat and raped her.
Jacobs agreed to be identified in hopes that it may prevent it from happening again.
“I want people to know this happens,” she said. “I want people to know my story and I want them to know what maybe they could do to prevent it and maybe recognize it.”
Prosecutors said Dyer was the second-in-command of the sex slavery ring, but testimony left courtroom observers with the opinion that Dyer was a minor player, if a player at all.
The acquittal was a crushing defeat for the prosecution.
“We’re incredibly disappointed in the verdict,” said Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly this morning. “We’re not sure what went wrong. We put on the best case we could have.”
Jacobs said she has accepted the verdict.
“I cried for a long time last night and when I woke up this morning, I just decided it was not in God’s plan for that to happen and maybe justice will be served in a different way,” she said.
Connolly maintained that Dyer was deeply involved in the ring. “We believe this defendant from this week was the right-hand man,” she said, “the number-two guy.” She said the verdict will have no effect on strategy in the future prosecution of three co-defendants.
At criminal trials, she said, “You always roll the dice. You never know what six people in the community will think about your case.”
As for the credibility of the victim and main prosecution witness – a fellow stripper – and the defendant, Connolly said, “I thought the defendant contradicted himself and I think that the mentality that the victims could not be trusted because they are dancers is incredibly sad.”
Jacobs testified that she was raped, beaten and forced to perform sex acts for money by the human trafficking organization. She said she spent 10 days as a captive in February 2009.
Kenyatta Cornelous, identified by investigators as the ringleader, and two other defendants, Edward Jones and Corinna Shaffer, are awaiting trial.
Dyer took the stand Thursday and said that he was the victim. He said he had just broken up with his girlfriend and needed money and a place to stay and Cornelous promised him an apartment and a chance to make money by selling food at a festival.
But then, Cornelous moved strippers into the apartment and told Dyer he had to give them rides to various strip clubs. Dyer said he was paid only a fraction of what he was owed.
Prosecutors and law enforcement put too much faith in the word of the victims, said defense attorney Bryant Camareno, and put no effort in supporting that with forensic evidence.
Was he surprised by the verdict?
“Not really,” he said this afternoon. “I believe in my client. I spent a lot of time with him.”
Dyer, a native of England with dual citizenship and former professional basketball player in Europe, remains in jail, he said.
He has an immigration hold that should be cleared up once the acquittal paperwork gets to immigration officials as well as an outstanding traffic violation in Orlando. Camareno said Dyer should be out of jail by next week.
After the verdict, Dyer “thanked God and he thanked me,” Camareno said. “He told me, ‘You’ve got a friend in me for life.’ ”
Jacobs said members of the ring were good at finding women with low self-esteem.
“They can pick out in a room that girl that is going to be vulnerable or easily manipulated,” she said. “Guys like that, they find girls like that and they prey on us.”
Jacobs’ father, Roland, said the family stands by his daughter.
“She stood up and told the truth in a very difficult situation,” he said. “She’s not going to give up. She’s strong and she will move forward.”
Maggie Jacobs had a warning for women considering becoming dancers.
“It’s kind of a glamorous for a little while, for a week or two, and then you start to feel like you realize these men they don’t care about your soul or your personality,” she said.
Jacobs said she is pregnant and giving up stripping to go back to school.
She hopes that her children will forgive her former life.
“I really hope that they’ll understand that because I used to dance or strip or whatever, I’m not a bad person, I’m not a liar, I’m not a thief,” she said. “I’ve done things that I regret, but I’m human.”
Reporter Tom Brennan contributed to this report. Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.