New signs encourage awareness and action on human trafficking
It was just past 10 p.m. on a Sunday night when two women walked into a Durham McDonald's and said they were being forced to sell sex by a man outside with a gun.
Officers who arrived at the Miami Boulevard restaurant minutes later found Corey Oliver Smith, 38, in a minivan and detained him, according to court records. The records don't say whether they found a gun or not, though they did seize a cell phone, receipts and plane tickets.
The two women, ages 16 and 31, were found in the McDonald's bathroom, according to the application for a search warrant filed by Investigator A.R. Bongarten. The search warrant states the Bongarten was investigating human trafficking and kidnapping violations.
Both women were from Charlotte. The document describes the 16-year-old as a runaway who had been entered into the National Crime Information Center on Dec. 9, 2017.
This is what the women told officers, according to the warrant:
They met Smith on an online dating site Plenty of Fish, commonly called POF.
The 31-year-old told police Smith picked them up from a daycare in Charlotte around 7 p.m. April 6 after the teen had corresponded with him. The women thought they were going to a party at Smith’s friend house, they said.
“They realized that ‘things were taking a turn’” when they ended up at a Motel 6 in Greensboro instead, the warrant states.
At the motel, the 31-year-old said she saw an outline of a gun on Smith’s waist.
Smith told the women he wanted to prostitute them in Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
“I’m gonna fly you out there, you are going to stand on the strip with other b------, and you are going to make me money,” the warrant states Smith told the women. “If you try to leave, I am going to kill you.”
Smith drove the women to Raleigh-Durham International Airport around 12:30 p.m. April 8 and tried to buy plane tickets to Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
The women had a moment alone with the airline employee and told her not to let the purchase go through, the warrant states.
When Smith couldn’t purchase a ticket, he drove the women to an unknown location and they slept in the minivan. Then they went to McDonald's, where he let the women go inside while he was talking on the phone.
The 31-year-old told police that she thought Smith was on the phone seeking help with getting to “the strip.”
“The next time I see you, I’m going to break your f------ neck. We’re not blood. You are not my cousin,” the woman said she heard Smith say.
Smith is being detained on two charges of second-degree kidnapping. He remains in jail on a $150,000 bail.
The Durham Police Department declined to answer questions relating to the charges, whether more charges are pending and if this situation is indicative of a human trafficking situation. They also didn't answer questions about what happened to the two women.
"This is still an active, ongoing investigation so I can’t release any additional details," said Police Department spokeswoman Kammie Michael.
Efforts to reach a manager at the McDonald’s that night were unsuccessful.
North Carolina has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation, said Libby Magee Coles, chairwoman of the state Human Trafficking Commission, at a January press conference highlighting Human Trafficking Awareness Day. The crime is “deeply intertwined with drug and gang activity,” she said
The state had 221 human trafficking cases reported last year, according to National Human Trafficking hotline.
Since 2007, there have been 982 cases and 2,559 victims in the state, according to the hotline, which defines trafficking as "a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will."
Human trafficking affects people across world and the U.S., the hotline states.
"(Human trafficking is) commonly regarded as one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time," the hotline website states. "Human trafficking affects every community in the United States across age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic backgrounds."
To report human trafficking:
Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.