A July 5 investigation on Columbus prostitution has led to human trafficking charges against two of five suspects in an ongoing investigation, a police detective testified Thursday in Recorder’s Court.
Rosten Sentel Martin, 26, and Johntavious Wallace, 25, were arrested with Mary Beth Blanks, 17, Alexis Seeger, 21, and Anibal Torres, 26, during an operation that started at the Super 8 Motel on 2935 Warm Springs Road. Martin now faces one count of trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude in addition to two counts of pimping while Wallace is charged with trafficking of persons and possession of Alprazolam with the intent to distribute. Blanks was charged with two counts of second-degree forgery for possessing two fake $100 bills, prostitution, possession of a .40-caliber pistol under the age of 18, and possessing a drug-related object.
Represented by attorneys or a public defender, all pleaded not guilty to charges during a 9 a.m. hearing. Judge Julius Hunter set bonds totaling $51,500 for Wallace, $55,500 for Martin and $2,750 for Blanks and bound the cases over to Superior Court.
The investigation marks the first human trafficking charges filed by the Columbus Police Department since 2015.
An investigation started July 5 after Columbus police received an email from the FBI regarding information from the Rogers Police Department in Arkansas, said police detective Mark Scruggs of the Special Victims Unit. It also indicated minors involved in sex trafficking.
Local police were also told about a website, skipthegames.com, used for prostitution and identified one suspect, Wallace, using an app and one who had an outstanding warrant in Arkansas. A search warrant was obtained to ping his cellphone, which was located in Columbus at the motel on Warm Springs Road.
Scruggs said police set up surveillance at the hotel where they located a 2017 Toyota Corolla registered to a rental company. While watching the vehicle, Martin and Wallace left the hotel and entered the vehicle. A marked police unit was called on Veterans Parkway to stop the vehicle that was driven by Martin. Wallace was the passenger.
Wallace was taken into custody on the outstanding warrant. In his possession, Wallace had 7.5 bars valued at $187 outside the original container and without a prescription. Martin was held and police found an electronic hotel key.
After a search warrant was obtained for the vehicle, police went back to the Super 8 Motel. They learned that Martin rented the room on July 3. Police didn’t enter the room but kept it under surveillance until a warrant was obtained.
Scruggs said a man later identified as Torres entered the room while police waited for the warrant. When they entered, police found $300 cash, two counterfeit $100 bills, cellphones and a Smith & Wesson pistol. The bills were found in a bag used by Blanks.
In a statement to police, Torres said he used an app on his phone that is used for escorting and spoke to a woman. He was advised the cost was $200 for sex but was told that she had a friend there, too. He paid $300 to engage in a threesome with Seeger and Blanks.
Seeger was charged with prostitution and possession of drug-related objects while Torres was charged with pandering. Both were released on bond and did not appear in court.
Alfonza Whitaker, the defense attorney for Wallace, asked Scruggs if authorities in Arkansas talked about pimping in Columbus and the detective said yes. The charge is based on the total investigation, the detective said.
The investigation is ongoing and more charges may be filed.
“We are still in the beginning stage of the investigation,” Scruggs said.