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February 28, 2020

Former mentor faces life for trafficking


A former mentor at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter who helped two teenage girls residing there to run away and work as prostitutes was convicted Friday by a federal jury of sex trafficking. Key Largo’s Ricky Jermaine Atkins, 29, faces a maximum punishment of life in prison at sentencing on Jan. 27 in Miami before U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke. The jury convicted him of two counts of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. The government described the sex trafficking operation this way: Atkins convinced the girls, ages 15 and 16 at the time, to run away from the shelter prior to them leaving the Tavernier-based facility at 11:30 p.m. Aug. 15, 2014. Atkins picked them up in a car and took them to a Motel 6 in Cutler Bay to meet his co-defendant, Sandra Simon, who allegedly took pictures of them for prostitution advertisements. Once in Homestead, Atkins picked up some adult “male associates” and went to a house, where Atkins explained to the two girls they would be “tested” by having sex with the three men, which occurred, records state. Atkins also worked as the girls’ pimp, exchanging texts with Simon over his need to collect the money made from the alleged illegal activity, records state. Simon, 24, of Homestead, cooperated with the government and previously pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors to one count of sex trafficking of a minor. She also faces a maximum sentence of life in prison at her sentencing on Nov. 20. Atkins was fired from the shelter on Sept. 10 after he was initially charged by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office with two third-degree felony counts of interference with custody. Those charges were dropped after federal prosecutors filed new sex trafficking charges. The girls, meanwhile, were found after they were involved in a car crash in Sarasota County in September 2014. A man and woman involved in the crash were arrested. Whether or not they are under investigation regarding the girls’ sex allegations has not been made public by the Human Trafficking Task Force run by the Miami State Attorney’s Office. The girls were taken back to the shelter at 73 High Point Road, where they later told detectives about the sex allegations. “During the trial, testimony was presented that Atkins (also) prostituted an 18-year-old woman he had met while she was a minor child living at the shelter,” a Department of Justice press release stated.

alinhardt@keysnews

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