Crime

More than 50 ‘semi-identified’ victims of sex trafficking found in Fort Worth this year

The house at 12405 Yellow Wood Dr. was found to be one of three homes that housed a sex trafficking ring in north Texas, according to the Dallas Police Department.
The house at 12405 Yellow Wood Dr. was found to be one of three homes that housed a sex trafficking ring in north Texas, according to the Dallas Police Department. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

In a quiet neighborhood filled with five-bedroom homes, manicured lawns and the occasional driveway basketball net, one house in particular stands out.

The front door of 12405 Yellow Wood Dr. is covered in plywood.

The cops apparently had to bust through it.

The green grass in front is ruined by deep tire grooves from the armored Dallas police SWAT vehicle. Some Halloween decorations now litter the front yard. One fake pumpkin sits on the porch.

Residents of the Villages of Woodland Springs neighborhood have heard rumors about the house and who lives there for a while. They’ve heard about people having sex on the tiny upstairs balcony. They’ve seen expensive cars go in and out of the garage. Most of the time, upwards of five cars were parked outside at once.

“We just thought there were roommates living there,” one neighbor said. “We didn’t think it was sex trafficking.”

But when they woke up at around 7 a.m. Tuesday to police yelling for the residents to come outside — the neighborhood knew something was wrong.

The Dallas Police Department said the leader of a “large-scale” sex trafficking ring was arrested at the house. Two other women they say were involved in the trafficking ring were arrested there. Eleven women who police say were sold for sex by Tremont Blakemore, 39, were recovered. Two boys — ages 2 and 9 months — were also taken from the home and placed into foster care, according to Marissa Gonzales of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

The only rental in the neighborhood

A couple of residents close to the home spoke with the Star-Telegram on Thursday on the condition that their names and locations not be used. They were afraid for the safety of their children.

One woman said she watched as the Dallas and Fort Worth police departments, along with federal authorities, arrived at the home Tuesday.

“The SWAT vehicle drove into the front yard,” she said. “We heard police yelling for them to come outside and there was one person who wouldn’t come out.”

At that point, she said officers drew their guns on the house and a robot went inside.

“I don’t know what happened after but things were cleared out around 8:30,” she said.

12405 Yellow Wood Dr. is the only house on the block that’s a rental, multiple neighbors said.

According to the Tarrant Appraisal District, the home — valued at $411,391 — is owned by 2012 Properties LLC. The company has a P.O. Box in Dallas, but no contact information is available online.

According to Realtor.com, the house was last sold in 2015. The home has five bedrooms and four bathrooms. According to Trulia, the home was off the market as of November 2017. A description says: “Beautiful home in a very desirable subdivision. Pets are a case by case basis, Contact Mario for all details.”

There is no longer any contact information for Mario on the website.

Because of the size of the home and the fact that the residents were renters, one neighbor said she never thought twice about the amount of traffic and cars. She thought several people were sharing the home.

Sex trafficking in Fort Worth

The Fort Worth Police Department has worked 38 human trafficking cases this year, with “53 at least semi-identified victims,” according to Felicia Grantham, human trafficking coordinator for the Fort Worth Police Department.

“The media’s idea of ‘rescued victims’ is inaccurate,” Grantham said. “Most victims don’t even identify as such and because of this they rarely cooperate with our process.”

But the numbers aren’t totally accurate. Police might get a case that originally looks like trafficking, but it ends up being a sexual assault case, she said.

“We still count those victims in our numbers because it started as a trafficking case,” Grantham said.

Overall, cases of human trafficking in the U.S. reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline jumped by 13 percent in 2017.

According to a report by the hotline, Texas was the second highest state for calls — behind California.

Texas received 792 calls in 2017 — up from 667 a year earlier. Of the 2017 tips, 551 were for sex trafficking. Since 2007, the hotline has tracked at least 5,388 victims.

Advocates have said that traffickers groom their victims, and many don’t immediately see themselves as victims.

“Traffickers use threats and physical violence to control their victims, so the person being trafficked may stay in the situation out of fear of physical pain or a loved one being hurt by the trafficker,” said Sandy Storm, a human trafficking survivor and author. “Victims have often suffered sexual abuse as a child or teen, may be addicted to alcohol and/or drugs, have criminal records or other vulnerabilities the trafficker will use against them to keep them from leaving or asking for help. Trauma bonds are often formed and the manipulation and mind control tactics used by traffickers can cause their victims to believe the situation they are in is actually their own choice.”

Many victims, she said, experience shame and think they’ll be rejected by society if they reach out for help. If they have a negative encounter with someone who should help them — such as a police officer, pastor or other community leader — it can lead them to feel like there’s no help.

The women who were recovered from the Fort Worth home were provided opportunities for counseling and other services targeted at helping victims of human trafficking, Dallas police said.

At around 5 p.m. Tuesday, one neighbor said she saw a group of women go into the house and leave with some items.

Officers also executed search warrants at 4529 Marcell Dr. in Dallas and 1786 Overlook Dr. in Lancaster.

Four women were found at the Overlook Drive house, police said.

The three people who were arrested in the Fort Worth home are Tremont Blakemore, 39, Donna Gonzales, 38, and Peaches Hurtado, 26. All are charged with aggravated promotion of prostitution and engaging in organized criminal activity.

Dallas police said that Blakemore was the leader of a “large-scale” trafficking ring. They’re also searching for a fourth co-conspirator.

Blakemore routinely kept a group of about 20 woman whom he sold for profit, police said. However, Dallas police suspect he has controlled and manipulated more than a hundred women — including trafficking women in Maine, Wyoming and Montana.

Blakemore was jailed on a $500,000 bond Thursday afternoon.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Dallas Police High-Risk Victims Unit Detective Paulson at 214 671-4217.

Authorities in Tarrant County recently arrested 30 men in a sting called the National Johns Suppression Initiative, which focuses on people soliciting sex, according to the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.

The initiative is aimed at curtailing the demand aspect of human sex-trafficking, the Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

“We are, and will continue to pursue predators like this in Tarrant County,” Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said. “We will use all resources available to ensure they are brought to justice.”

The men who were arrested range in ages from 17 to 59.

Julia Walsh was rescued from sex traffickers, and her road to recovery continues.

Nichole Manna, 817-390-7684, @NicholeManna
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