Boca Raton, Fla. - A husband-and-wife team are facing federal sex-trafficking charges, accused of holding young women against their will at motels in Broward and Palm Beach counties and forcing them to work as prostitutes.
Federal prosecutors said Mackenley Desir, 33, and Genet Rembert, 20, of Hallandale Beach, prostituted young, vulnerable women – including one from a Boca Raton drug rehab and another who ran away from foster care.
The women said they were forced to have sex with clients lured by online ads and were also forced to walk the streets to pick up customers in Hollywood, South Beach and Miami.
FBI agents said they discovered that Desir, known as "Daddy," and Rembert, known as "Fire," coerced a 20-year-old woman into the sex trade. The Vermont woman met Desir after she left a residential recovery program in Boca Raton.
The young woman started using drugs again in May and thought Desir was getting them for her, agents said. Instead, he brought her to a Hollywood motel and held her captive for weeks, confiscated her cellphone and identification documents, and kept her drugged with pills and crack cocaine, agents said.
The victim, identified only by initials, was rented out to clients, and Desir took all her earnings, she told agents. Her family eventually found her in July.
The woman said Desir pointed a gun at her, threatened to kill her and drove her to an abandoned warehouse where she was beaten by three people, including Rembert.
The woman said Rembert was Desir's assistant, posted escort ads online, took clients' calls and set up appointments for the women, prosecutors said.
During a hearing Thursday in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Rembert's lawyer Kevin Kulik said prosecutors mistakenly treated Rembert as a defendant when she should be listed as another victim. She has a history of mental health problems and ran away from foster homes in her teens, he said.
"She has a lifetime [history] of being taken advantage of by people like Mr. Desir," Kulik told U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman.
Rembert testified the women voluntarily worked for Desir.
"Nobody ever worked for me, I was just as much of a worker as they were," Rembert said.
When prosecutors asked her whose idea it was to get a large tattoo of her husband's name inked on her upper chest, she replied: "His."
Prosecutor Francis Viamontes said the difference between Rembert and the victims was Rembert helped hold them hostage, took away their cellphones and identification and beat one of them after Desir suspected she hid money.
"Threatening to kill victims, beating them ... that is where the government draws the line between being a victim and a defendant," Viamontes said.
Kulik said Desir is in immigration custody and was about to be deported to Haiti when the charges were filed earlier this month.
Prosecutors said several women were victimized by Desir and Rembert, but only two were listed in the complaint.
The second victim was a 17-year-old runaway from Vero Beach foster care who prosecutors said Desir victimized in 2007 before he met Rembert. Investigators said the teen victim met Desir through friends in West Palm Beach and they had a "romantic relationship" until Desir told her to have sex with other men to help pay the rent.
Desir drove her to meet clients at Palm Beach County hotels and she had to have sex with two to three men a day for $60 to $100 per client, according to the complaint. Desir kept the money, she said.
The girl said Desir tore up her identification papers and took her clothing away to prevent her from escaping. He frequently beat her and held a gun to her head once, she said.
The couple have a history of arrests related to prostitution and more serious crimes. Rembert was arrested in November during a sweep by undercover Boynton Beach police officers who set up prostitution "dates" with women listed in escort website ads.