Crime & Courts
Life sentence for man who forced teens into prostitution
TAMPA - A man who forced teenage girls into prostitution will spend the rest of his life in federal prison under a sentence handed down Friday in U.S. District Court. Weylin Rodriguez, 29, “took prostitution to another level,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacie Harris, who told U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven Rodriguez treated his victims as property, beating them, branding them with tattoos and controlling what they ate and where they slept. “They weren’t property,” the prosecutor said. “They were people. It was their innocence that was taken from them by this defendant.” Among the victims was a 15-year-old Tampa girl kidnapped by Rodriguez in Ybor City in December 2010. Others ranged in age from 15 to 18 and met Rodriguez in stores and while walking along the street, mainly in the Orlando area.The young women and girls were made to work as prostitutes in Orlando, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Harris read from a letter written by a girl while she was being held by Rodriguez. In the letter, the girl described her “living hell.” “I feel like I’m in fire,” she wrote, “and I can’t get out … I ask God every day, why me? It hurts so bad, I cry every day.” Scriven said Rodriguez “is as bad as any this court has encountered.” The judge added that the defendant “has not demonstrated any remorse … has not been moved by the effects of his conduct.” Prosecutors said Rodriguez cajoled, bribed and terrified girls to work for him. One method he called “cupcaking” involved talking nice to girls and buying them things to persuade them to prostitute for him. If that didn't work, he'd use threats and violence: brandishing a gun, beating the girls or making them watch when he beat others. One of the victim’s mothers told Scriven that her daughter’s experience with Rodriguez had been “very traumatic.” Urging a life sentence, the mother said, “I don’t want another child to go through what these young girls went through.” Another mother said the ordeal has had an impact on her entire family. “My daughter will never be the same.” Defense lawyer Alec Hall continued to maintain Rodriguez didn’t force the victims, who Hall described as willing participants in prostitution. The girls had numerous opportunities to say no or walk away, the public defender argued, and yet they chose to stay with Rodriguez. Hall also said Rodriguez was raised by a prostitute and collected money for her as a young child. He didn’t know any other way of life, Hall said. Two women who admitted they were Rodriguez's “bottom girls” -- trusted prostitutes who served as teachers and enforcers -- pleaded guilty before Rodriguez's trial and testified against him. They are Tatujuana Joye, 22, of Kissimmee, and Pria Gunn, 20, of Orlando, who each faced up to life in prison. But because of their cooperation, Joye was sentenced to time served plus probation, and Gunn received 46 months in prison, followed by five years of probation. According to prosecution evidence in the trial, the 15-year-old girl kidnapped in Ybor City was visiting with a friend when they became separated. The girl needed a ride to her mother's house, and Rodriguez said he would take her. Another female joined them in the car, riding in the front passenger seat while the girl was in the back. She gave Rodriguez directions to her mother's house, but he started driving in a different direction. When the girl objected, the female reached beneath the seat and handed Rodriguez a gun. He pointed it at the girl and told her, “You're now a 'ho,’’’ a street term for prostitute. The girl was taken to Orlando and forced to walk the streets as a prostitute. But on the second night, after she failed to make any money the first night, a man who pulled up in his car turned out to be a good Samaritan. He let her use his phone to call her mother. The girl and her mother reunited, found the hotel where she had been held and contacted law enforcement.