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Kent couple headed to prison in juvenile sex trafficking case

Altesa Turner. - COURTESY PHOTO
Altesa Turner.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO

A Kent woman will serve 22 months in prison and her boyfriend could serve up to 26 years in connection with a juvenile sex trafficking ring they operated out of their Kent apartment.

Altesa Turner, 44, plead guilty to helping facilitate prostitution by posting the photos and ads on the Internet. She was recently sentenced to 22 months in state prison, according to a Kent Police media release.

A King County Superior Court jury last week convicted Bernard D. Watkins, 32, of three counts for promoting commercial sex abuse of minors, and a single count for unlawfully possessing a firearm. When he is sentenced, the range could be from 20 to 26 years in prison. Because the convictions are related to sex trafficking Watkins will have to serve at least 90 percent of his assigned time.

“We are extremely proud of the hard work and effort that was put forth by our officers while identifying and shutting down this operation,” said Kent Assistant Police Chief Pat Lowery.

Lowery also praised the efforts made by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office during an unusually long and involved trial.

“This was a team effort from its onset and has provided closure for both the victims and their families," Lowery said.

Watkins and Turner were arrested by Kent Police in July when investigation of a street disturbance led police officers to identify the trafficking of three teenage girls by the couple.

Officers responded to a fight at a bus stop on July 11 in the 10800 block of Southeast 208th Street.

While sorting out the details of the disturbance, officers were made aware of prostitution activity, as well as drug and firearm trafficking originating from a specific location. Detectives from the Kent Police Special Investigations Unit and Innocence Lost Task Force stepped in to assist and were able to quickly identify the couple.

After developing probable cause for the arrests, a SWAT team took the pair into custody the following day. A search of their apartment yielded additional evidence of the crimes.

The couple pimped the girls last summer through advertisements posted on www.backpage.com, a website known to be used by pimps and prostitutes to find customers through ads posted for escorts, according to charging papers.

Watkins moved from Indiana into Turner's apartment in Kent around March of this year. Turner reportedly took photos of a 15-year-old girl wearing Turner's purple lingerie and black high heels, according to charging papers. The photos were used to post an ad on backpage.com.

Detectives saw an ad on the site posted July 9 that listed Turner's phone number as a contact and included five photos of the girl, including one wearing purple lingerie and black high heels. The girl also had a distinctive tattoo on her chest that helped detectives determine it was the same girl who had been photographed in the couple's apartment.

Another photo of the girl showed a couch that matched a couch found in the couple's apartment. The ad on the website also listed two other females and Turner's contact number.

Watkins also posted ads on the website with his phone number as a contact. He would collect half of the money that the girls would get while working as prostitutes. The girls would meet some clients at the couple's apartment.

A Valley SWAT team raided the couple's unit July 12 at the Indigo Springs Apartments, 11101 S.E. 208th St. Detectives searched the residence and found several items depicted in backpage.com ads, including purple lingerie, black high heels, leopard print lingerie, a distinctive floral patterned couch and a multi-color shower curtain.

During an interview with detectives, Turner said she allowed girls to use her lingerie, heels, couch and apartment to take photos with her phone in order to post ads on the Internet. She said she also put $60 on a prepaid Visa card so the girls would have a credit card to pay for the ads. She said she thought the ads cost about $10. She added calls would come in within minutes after the ads were posted.

Turner told detectives she never made any profit from the prostitution. She told one of the officers she likes to help out young people who do not have other places to go.

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