This should be quite a treat. My first guest column. And by a very special guest. And not just because of his title – Supervisory Special Agent, IRS Criminal Investigation Division – Shaun Healy.
Shaun was THE best federal agent I’ve ever worked with. More on Shaun later but for now, here is his take on the Las Vegas War On Pimps, which could not have happened without him.
SHAUN HEALY AND THE Q
I worked a lot of cases with the Pissed off Prosecutor (POP).
One thing I learned early on. If you were a criminal engaged in a particular criminal activity, you did not want that activity (and certainly not yourself) to materialize on the PoP’s radar. It was not going to end well for you. Such was the case when Las Vegas Metro Vice brought Andre Taylor and the whole world of pimps trafficking minors to the attention of the POP and the U.S. Attorneys Office in 1999.
The Taylor case was a great success and gratifying to work, as has been detailed previously on this site. But the whole sordid world of pimps trafficking minors had now been brought to the attention of the POP. And it wasn’t disappearing off of his radar screen any time soon.
Next on the hit list was one Quinton Williams, street name “Goldie”, who we not so affectionately referred to as the “Q”.
The Q was the exact opposite of a high end, arrogant pimp like Andre Taylor. He was in fact a violent, street level predator. His arrest and interview in Las Vegas revealed much.
As did the interview of an underage female who worked for the Q. The story of a cross country odyssey along “the track”, wherein the Q, that underage female and an adult prostitute was detailed.
It seems they’d traveled in the Q’s Cadillac. It was to become a mini legend among the prosecution team. It bore a distinctive hood ornament, which the three travelers affectionately called “the flying bitch.”
Starting in Chicago and stopping at a number of cities along the way, the Q’s girls engaged in prostitution. The final stop – Las Vegas.
When I received the initial briefing on this case, I thought I was going to have to pass on the case. The Q was a worthy target, but he was a street level guy who didn’t quite fit the high level, high dollar criteria that IRS CID imposes. In other words, it would be tough for me to sell this one to my management.
But towards the end of the briefing it came out that the minor prostitute had the EXACT same birth date (month, day, year) as my (then) teenage daughter. That struck a chord – I was all in. The maneuvering of this case for approval through CID management is a story for another day.
So with the POP leading the charge, the game was on.
Utilizing the initial interview of the underage female, we were able to track the entire voyage from Chicago to Las Vegas. In virtually every city they stopped in, the girls were arrested at least once. Using police reports, cell phone records, hotel records etc, we were able to establish that whenever the girls were arrested, the Q was nearby. In Las Vegas, for instance, he rented the hotel rooms the girls stayed at. Criminal genius. So with the minor’s story fully corroborated, the Q was indicted and arrested for a number of federal offenses. Ironically, proving the most serious charge – that the Q knew he was trafficking a minor – was no longer necessary, thanks by to the Ninth Circuit precedent we’d set in the Andre Taylor prosecution.
So, here we stood, with a rock solid case against a very deserving defendant.
But not so fast.
The first of many twists and turns in this case was about to unfold. As trial approached, our two prostitute witnesses were nowhere to be found. Not an uncommon occurrence in these type of cases, but a brutal setback nonetheless. And with the greatest reluctance, the POP was forced to dismiss the charges. The Q was seemingly a free man! So the POP requested that the court issue a material witness warrant for her.
And yet another twist was about to occur. It would happen two weeks after the charges against the Q were dismissed. The adult prostitute, now working on “automatic” (on her own) was arrested in Las Vegas. And the POP was ready to pull a rabbit out of his prosecutorial hat. During his last week as an AUSA in Las Vegas he quickly arranged for a video deposition of the prostitute to be taken. This preserved her testimony, on the record, under oath and represented by counsel. In the not unlikely event she was to pull another disappearing act, we’d already her locked in. With this testimony in hand, the Q was back in custody, again waiting trial.
Then, the POP requested that we obtain a DNA sample from him. It was suspected he was the father of a child born to the minor female. So there was a solid evidentiary basis for obtaining his DNA. We suspected as well that the POP just wanted to mess with the Q. And if so, it worked. When we swabbed his cheek at the jail he was, to put it mildly, extremely agitated.
So as the case progressed to trial, the Q appeared to receive another break. By this time the POP had left the Las Vegas US Attorney’s office. But unfortunately for the Q, the case fell into the very formidable hands of AUSA Howard Zlotnick. The trial proved to be quite the challenge, as once again the two females were nowhere to be found. But AUSA Zlotnick masterfully presented all of the corroborating evidence that had been gathered, including police officers from all over the country testifying as to their interaction with the Q and his “girls”. Just as we had done with Andre Taylor.
But of course all of this evidence was used to support the testimony of the star witness, whose direct examination was conducted by none other than the POP himself. In a surreal moment in the trial, that old videotaped deposition of the adult prostitute was played, with the POP in a “virtual reality” appearance. There he was, on tape, patiently soliciting the key testimony central to the case. It was almost like he was sitting at the prosecution table with us.
The jury did not take much time in rendering a guilty verdict. The Q was sentenced to 10 years.
But yet another twist.
ANOTHER BUMP IN THE ROAD
About five years after his conviction, I had left the Las Vegas Field Office and was an SSA in the New York Field Office. I received a call from Las Vegas AUSA Christina Brown, who informed me that the 9th Circuit had overturned the Q’s conviction and that she had inherited the case. Her initial (and not unreasonable) take was to dismiss the case and let the Q go, with time served.
Fortunately I had read the Ninth Circuit decision and related to her that the evidence the appeals court had an issue with was really trivial to the case. But of more import, I explained in graphic detail what a low life predator the Q was and urged her to retry the case. So here I was, the guy who almost bailed on the case initially, pleading for the case to continue on. And to her credit AUSA Brown decided to take it on.
The Q went to trial once again, but by this point in time, the underage female prostitute was an adult, who had turned her life around. She was a willing and effective witness. And oh, remember that long ago DNA test the POP had insisted on? Well, it was trotted out as evidence to prove that the child born to our victim/ witness, when she was 15 years old, had in fact been fathered by none other than Quinton Williams. The Q was convicted in short order.
In the final twist to the case, it was discovered that his initial sentence had been calculated incorrectly. As a result, he received an additional 7.5 years. Sometimes there are happy endings.
The POP’s program/war on pimps did have enough momentum to carry on and produce some other quality cases after his departure, before eventually falling off the rails. I may post in the future about those other cases, and the eventual derailment of the program.