16-year-old girl rescued in undercover Rowan County human trafficking sting

ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. — An undercover sting in Rowan County led to the rescue of a 16-year-old girl being forced to sell herself for sex.

Only Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz was with those undercover detectives every step of the way, spending late nights and several days with them during the investigation.

>> “9 Investigates: The Rescued”

Rowan County Sheriff’s Office deputies said their undercover operation investigated human trafficking and prostitution in Salisbury. They said on March 13, they found a 16-year-old girl who was reported missing from Charlotte after running away from home on March 4.

The goal of the operation was to look into sex trafficking and help anyone in danger, but deputies had no idea they would come across a minor.

“I remember I asked her what her birthday was and that’s what she told me the year was 2007,” Det. Daniel Fero said. “And I had to make her repeat it because I didn’t believe it.”

The girl told deputies she met 33-year-old Kadeem Williams who took her in. He’s accused of taking advantage of her before trafficking her, forcing her into the sex trade.

The signs of trafficking

Williams is a convicted felon on parole. Investigators confirmed he was living at a Charlotte hotel.

The girl told investigators she met him at a train station.

“Everything that she makes through these visits, she has to put in his banking account. She never has any money of her own, and if she refuses any services, he threatens to beat her up and this, that, and the other,” said Rowan County Det. Amber Weaver. “She said he choked her last night ... She said they’ve had sex once ... I believe she is probably having sex with him more than just the one time.”

Weaver is part of the Special Victims Unit at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office.

Goetz was undercover with detectives on the night of March 13, when the teen arrived at a Salisbury hotel by rideshare. It’s where Williams is accused of setting up an appointment for her to be paid $250 for sex.

″It’s concerning that we only spent about an hour trying to lure somebody here online and, in basically in one hour of doing this, we have a [16-year-old] show up,” Chief Deputy Jason Owens said. “So to me, that sounds like a huge problem.”

Detectives made sure the teen was safe, took her to get help, and contacted her family.

“She said she wants to go home,” Weaver said.

Then, they turned their focus to the man accused of putting her in this position to begin with.

“We were all prepared for it. But none of us wanted it to be true,” Det. Fero told Goetz. “I don’t think anyone in this world wants it to be true, that kids are getting trafficked.”

Investigators believe Williams was doing all of the communicating.

“He sets the amounts. Everything she makes, she has to give to him to put in his account,” Weaver said. “I said ‘do you have any money in your pocket?’ She’s like ‘no, but if I need something, he buys the things that I have to have. But he never gives me any money.’ She said yesterday he choked her because she kept wanting to walk out of the room, said she needed some air, this, that, and the other, and he kept cussing her.”

“She’s basically not free to leave,” Weaver added.

The teen said in addition to buying her things she needed, Williams had bought her cookies the night before. Det. Ryan Dangerfield with the Special Victims Unit told Goetz facts like that make the case a lot like a domestic violence situation.

“We see a lot of things like that just, in even domestic cases that we’ve worked on in the past where, these people, they’re, they’re almost brainwashed. Where they’re so used to getting the bare minimum that just one step up from the bare minimum ... it’s just lifechanging to them,” he said. ″And it was just a matter of just him buying her cookies ... It made her world just so much brighter, apparently.”

>> Learn more about how the sting was set up by clicking here.

‘I don’t want to do it no more’

Investigators asked the girl if she would be willing to call her alleged trafficker. They said her contacting him would help deputies get her away from Williams.

“We are just trying to get information about the things going on between the two of you,” investigators explained to her.

She called Williams to tell him she wanted out.

“If I’m being honest, I don’t think I want to do this anymore,” she told him.

“So you’re not coming back?” he asked.

“No, I’m not coming back,” she said.

“Is it because of the amount of money you got? Are you good now, that’s the reason?” he said.

“No, like, no,” she said.

“I’m just curious as to the reason why, ‘cause you went from saying you love me, you want to be with me, to you’re not coming back,” he said.

Dangerfield explained that Williams’ reaction was likely a way to get the teenager to change her mind.

“He’s grooming her. I mean, it seemed like from that phone call, it was his last-ditch effort trying to reel her back in, where she probably felt like she needed to get away,” Dangerfield said. “But he more than likely just thought that if he can try to salvage what he had left -- why not throw a Hail Mary.”

Williams also brought up the Uber ride the 16-year-old had called to get there, saying it put his account in the negative. He asked her for $50, but when she refused, he demanded an explanation.

“Oh wow OK, I know I didn’t deserve you to play me like this so ... what’s the reason?” he asked.

“All I said is I don’t want to do this no more, I don’t want to do the ads no more. I don’t want to do it no more.”

“That’s no problem, I’m asking what you’re doing next? Like what’s you’re next move?”

“Don’t worry about it, just no.”

The teen told deputies she typically has at least two clients per day, and it was her first time going outside of Charlotte for them. She said the only reason she was in this situation was to have somewhere to stay and food to eat.

“Her friends and mother wouldn’t allow her to stay there any longer so that’s when she left and met him [at the train station], and he’s the one who told her about the app and how the ads work and how she could make money,” Det. Weaver said.

“From the story she gave us, she just seemed like she was in a really bad situation. It seemed like she latched on to the first person that she found that seemed like they seemed like they cared,” Dangerfield told Goetz. “But at the end of the day, she kind of realized that they didn’t really care as much as she thought.”

“I don’t feel like she knew she was, in fact, a victim of human trafficking. I know that, at times, she felt that she was loved,” Weaver said.

The arrest

Next, police determined whose jurisdiction the case fell into and how they could get the district attorney to make a case.

“Now what will you guys do?” Goetz asked.

“This is pretty much a milestone for this county because nobody’s charged it before,” Lt. Ryan Barkley said.

The detectives arrested Williams that night.

Barkley spoke to Goetz about the emotions running through the room when detectives realized the teen was a juvenile.

“When we when we actually did find a juvenile that was missing, and is the definition of human trafficking based on the state law, it was emotional,” he said. “And I know that the some of the stuff that isn’t recorded, you know, some of the officers did get emotional. And it’s because we care, you know?”

“I wasn’t going to let her slip through the cracks,” he added.

Det. Dangerfield spoke to Goetz about Williams’ attitude when he was arrested.

“I don’t think he really understood how serious the situation was. He seemed more concerned about being pegged as an abusive individual, or what time he was looking at. I really don’t think that either he knew or cared,” Dangerfield said.

“He claimed he didn’t know how old she was. But just from talking to him, he had a suspicion, so I feel like he more than likely knew. He just didn’t want to come to terms with it,” he added.

Goetz asked Barkley what it was like making the arrest.

“Oh, yeah, definitely feels good, especially to be able to find him that night ... But it does feel good to actually make sure that, like I said, when we go to bed, she’s safe, and he’s in jail,” Barkley said.

“I just don’t see how these people sleep at night doing what they’re doing, other than just through motivation of money and greed,” Dangerfield said.

Williams is charged with felony promoting prostitution of a minor in Rowan County. He also faces a charge of assault by strangulation in Mecklenburg County.

“[The teenager] was taken to a hospital that specializes in the treatment and protection of juveniles for victims of this type crime,” Sheriff Travis Allen said in a news conference.

She’s in protective custody as Rowan County deputies continue to build the case against her accused trafficker.

Hannah Goetz

Hannah Goetz, wsoctv.com

Hannah is a reporter for WSOC-TV.

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