Lost and Found
For years, the most notorious prostitution ring New England has ever seen ruthlessly exploited runaways like Jackie Pena. It took an FBI agent on his last case to bring the whole thing down.
Jackie had tried to look tough for the mug shots, but she was just 110 pounds and not much over 5 feet tall in her boots. And anyway, her heavy-lidded eyes made her look more sleepy than hardened. It was somewhere around 4 a.m. now on September 18, 2000, and she was stuck in a cell at the police station on New Sudbury Street. There was nothing for her to do but wait, and hope to be released in the morning.
A couple of hours earlier, Jackie Pena (one of several names she was known by on the street) had been out on the Track, the stretch between Chinatown and the South End where Boston’s prostitutes work. She was wearing a red top low-cut enough to show some skin, and a black leather jacket and pants that covered the scars on her arms and legs. Her hair, dyed red, was parted in the middle, framing her freckled face.
Standing at the corner of Oak Street and Harrison Avenue, between the Tai Tung Village apartment towers and a row of shops shuttered by metal gates, Jackie waited for the horny guys who would funnel out onto the streets of Chinatown once the bars and strip clubs closed. They would come to her for $20 oral sex in the front seats of their cars; if it was a good night, one of them might be willing to pay her $100 or more for intercourse. They’d head for one of the quiet streets just off Broadway in Southie, or, if he was nervous, park all the way out at Castle Island, overlooking the black waters of Pleasure Bay.
The night was cold, and Jackie pulled her jacket tightly around her. Just before 2 o’clock, a guy pulled up in a car. Jackie offered to give him oral sex for $40. The man identified himself as an undercover Boston detective and arrested her.
The booking desk at the police station was like an assembly line, with Jackie one of dozens of girls arrested. She had no ID, but told the officer her name was Kelly, that she was 19 and lived in Gloucester. At her arraignment a few hours later, Jackie pleaded not guilty and the judge ordered her to stay out of downtown, then let her go until her next court date.
Jackie had no intention of returning to that court, or any other, ever again. Cops, lawyers, judges—whatever their function, they were no comfort to her. Not yet, anyway. Jackie walked back out to the street, back to her place in what investigators would come to call one of the most extensive prostitution rings in New England history. She was 13 years old.
“Underage prostitution” conjures up images of poverty-stricken developing nations where desperate kids will do anything for money. The truth, though, is that much of the prostitution in this country, including right here in Boston, involves children. Police say one out of every four local prostitutes is a minor, with most starting as young as Jackie did. They know of at least 100 juveniles working in Suffolk County alone, and figure that there are many more who simply haven’t been identified.
On average, it takes a teen prostitute 10 years to get out of the business, which is three years longer than the FBI calculates she can expect to live; during the time Jackie was working, two local teenage prostitutes were murdered. Girls getting into the sex trade aren’t thinking about that, though. They’re thinking about improving their lives.
That’s what Jackie had in mind one day four months before her arrest in Chinatown as she watched four prostitutes turn over thick wads of cash to a pimp named Lance Williams, a convicted sex offender whose stable of hookers included the mother of his children. Lance liked to get into brawls outside bars near his home in Revere. Once, after he crunched his boot into a guy’s face, it took two officers to wrestle him into handcuffs. He scared people. So when he noticed Jackie, who he’d heard had started working as a prostitute when she was 11, and asked about the fresh-faced kid, her pimp in Lynn didn’t offer much resistance. The rights to a girl can be worth $1,000, but the guy turned Jackie over to Lance for a cigarette.
Jackie was the kind of girl Lance liked. She was a chronic runaway, one of the 40 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 that police estimate go missing in the Boston area each month. Her father was out of the picture, and she no longer spoke to her mother, who had handed her off to her grandmother. The grandmother eventually passed her along, too, putting her in foster care. Like 70 percent of teen prostitutes, Jackie had been abused from a young age, developing a combustible combination of low self-esteem and fierce survival instinct. Her mood could swing wildly from shy to brash to petulant, and she told crazy stories, like how her mother would force her to sleep in a graveyard behind their house. Her behavior put off other girls on the street, but Lance didn’t mind. Jackie was perfect. There didn’t really seem to be anyone who cared about what happened to her one way or the other.
After his prostitutes had given him all their cash, about $4,000, Lance turned to Jackie and asked her a question: “Would you like to make that kind of money?”
Around this time, FBI special agent Charlie Sacco was sitting in his downtown Boston office, reading a stack of agency reports. The documents contained information on members of Lance Williams’s extended family, the Joneses (Lance used the names Williams and Jones interchangeably), many of whom had gone into the same line of work as Lance.
Sacco (the agent’s undercover identity) had spent his career taking on crime syndicates. As a young agent in the early 1980s, he’d worked undercover for a year on the famous Donnie Brasco Mafia sting. “We called him ‘Charlie Chains’ because he wore so much gold,” the real Donnie Brasco, Joseph D. Pistone, later wrote in his memoir. Broad-shouldered and built low to the ground, Sacco had a heavy street accent and Italian features that helped him slip easily into wiseguy roles. Over his three-decade career, he’d worked several high-profile cases in New York and Boston, and his team had come closer than anyone else to capturing Whitey Bulger.
At the time, the FBI didn’t bother much with prostitution, but to Sacco’s experienced eye, the Jones family looked like an organized criminal enterprise rather than a bunch of small-time pimps. Poring over police reports going back 10 years, he saw that the family was sending prostitutes and transferring money across state lines. There was also evidence they were using underage girls.
The first step in taking on the Joneses, Sacco realized, was untangling the family tree, which was proving as impenetrable as their neighborhood. Many of the Joneses lived on a hill in North Revere, in a stretch of run-down duplexes packed along twisting streets and abrupt dead ends overlooking Kappy’s Liquors on Route 1. At one corner there was a junkyard where the family’s name was spray-painted across an electrical transformer, leading some people to call the area Jonestown. Besides Lance and his brother, Robbie, there were guys like Clarky Jones, who once spent five days holding captive and beating a prostitute who displeased him; he was arrested some two dozen times but never convicted—prosecutors couldn’t find anyone to testify against him—before he was shot to death in Chinatown in 1997. Another Jones, Richard, sicced his pit bulls on a friend and smashed a bottle across his face during an argument at the junkyard. After sorting out who the players were, Sacco moved on to the next step. He was going to need evidence, and witnesses.
Lance Williams had something better in mind for Jackie than walking the street. He would send her to the Danish Health Club in Kittery, Maine, where prostitution is a misdemeanor that typically carries a $70 fine. The massage parlor had been an open secret in the state’s oldest town for two decades; residents wrote letters to the newspaper complaining that everyone knew the place was a whorehouse. The morning guys on sports radio WEEI in Boston once talked about the club for a couple of days, causing a spike in attendance, and one town councilor liked to honk when he drove by just to see the men in the parking lot jump. The Joneses had been sending girls there for about a decade. None of them had ever run into any serious trouble.
Lance’s girlfriend, Cheryl Stilwell, also worked as a prostitute at the Danish, bringing him home up to several thousand dollars a week. Lance used Stilwell to run a kind of shuttle between Boston and Kittery, having her drive his other prostitutes in either his Lexus SUV or a rental car at least four times a week. The day after meeting Jackie, Lance sent her to work at the health club. Cheryl drove the Lexus and, during the hourlong trip up I-95, instructed Jackie to tell people she was 18.
Cheryl and Jackie exited the highway at the Portsmouth Traffic Circle in New Hampshire, passed a Bickford’s restaurant and the Moonlight Reader sex shop, then crossed over the Piscataqua River. A hundred yards into Kittery, they turned right and pulled into the Danish. Cheryl and Jackie walked up to the tan, two-story building, which sat between a quiet residential neighborhood and a business district. At the locked steel door, they rang a buzzer and were let in by Joel Lehrer, the club’s heavyset owner. Cheryl led Jackie into a changing room, where they stripped and stored their street clothes in lockers. They changed into nude stockings, one-piece swimsuits, and high heels they had taken from a bookshelf against the wall. Then they walked out to the lounge to join the other prostitutes waiting for customers to arrive.
Some 50 men a day visited the club. It cost $70 just to get in, which nearly everyone paid in cash. The men received a towel and a ticket and were instructed to take a shower in the locker room, where they could also use the whirlpool and sauna. Afterward, wearing nothing but towels or robes, they’d head to the lounge to relax on green leather couches, watch TV, and decide on a girl.
Since it was Jackie’s first day, Cheryl brought her along as she led her first customer down a hall into one of the eight massage rooms. It resembled a shabby insurance office, with green institutional carpeting and a drop ceiling. There was a massage table set up in the center, and a full-length mirror tacked to the wall.
Cheryl began with a full-body rubdown, which was technically what her customer had paid for out front. Then she asked him how he would like to end his session. She negotiated a $150 “tip” and, as Jackie looked on, performed oral sex. Everything has its price, Cheryl explained after the man had left: $100 for a handjob (known as a “handshake”), $150 for oral sex (“frenching”), and $200 for vaginal sex (“full service”).
Jackie had sex with half a dozen men that first day. Lance had been right about the money. After changing out of her swimsuit, she shoved nearly $1,000 into her pocket. When she and Cheryl arrived back at the apartment, Lance took it all.
Jackie had been living as a foster daughter in Salem when she started working for Lance in May 2000. In July, her foster family called the police and reported her missing.
During the next five months, Jackie worked on and off at the health club. She had sex with as many as two dozen men a week, bringing thousands of dollars back home to Lance. Jackie was careful to keep her age a secret, and she wore makeup that made her look older. But she still talked like a child, leading a few spooked customers to decide that, on second thought, they’d rather just have a massage after all. Most, though, didn’t seem to mind. Gradually, Jackie realized that the police were not going to be a problem. According to court records, Joel Lehrer’s wife, Susan, told Jackie she needn’t worry about the cops: “Joel pays them off when they come in.”
Jackie soon began to resent Lance. He took all her money, only occasionally giving her $20 back to buy condoms. Unlike his other girls, she wouldn’t just quietly do what she was told. Lance, who was in his early 40s, fought often with Jackie. Fed up with the aggravation, Lance eventually gave her to his older brother, Robbie, and let him deal with her instead.
Robbie had just finished a year in prison and was sharing a duplex with Lance in Revere. Jackie was his first girl, and the brothers shared rights to her while he learned the ropes. As a Jones, he commanded a certain amount of respect on the street, but most considered him a small-timer, neither as ambitious nor as vicious as other family members.
Jackie had been working for Robbie for a month when she was busted by the undercover cop that September night in Chinatown. After that, even Robbie knew enough to get her out of town. He sent Jackie to work with other Jones prostitutes at the Alpha Leisure and Health Club in East Hartford, Connecticut. The Jones family had taken to regularly sending their girls there, leading one online reviewer to write, “There is a large group of barely legal white girls from Boston who commute down to work there now. Thank you, Beantown!”
To increase business, Robbie hooked Jackie up with a family friend named Dawn Young, a former prostitute who was running escort services out of her apartment. Dawn’s girls didn’t work for her the way they did for pimps. She was a middleman, connecting them with callers for a $100 fee. Whatever they did behind closed doors, for whatever additional price, was ostensibly up to them. Girls begged Dawn for work because escort calls were safer than the streets. Some called her “ho savior.”
Dawn was wary of Jackie’s immaturity and volatility, but Robbie was a friend—he’d introduced her to the man who fathered her child—so, for his sake, she continued to send her out on calls. Jackie, by this time, was quietly finding work of her own, secretly walking the streets and keeping the money she made. She also had a series of boyfriends she kept from Robbie, who sometimes beat her. Still, things had more or less fallen into a rhythm. Robbie was making money; Jackie had a place to live. Dawn even began to suspect Jackie had fallen in love with Robbie.
Then one day in July 2001, one year after Jackie had run away from her foster home, Robbie called Dawn in a panic. Someone had just told him they’d seen Jackie on a missing-child poster in Revere. Dawn looked up the poster online, finding it just below one for a 16-year-old girl named Molly Bish, whose remains would be discovered two years later. The poster had Jackie’s real name, her age, everything. In the photo, her curly hair was bunched into a ponytail with a sunflower scrunchie, and she was smiling so broadly her gums were visible. She looked like a kid.
“Oh my God,” Dawn said to herself.
A year into the FBI investigation of the Jones family, Charlie Sacco was finding it slow going. He had made early morning visits to scope out Jonestown. He’d driven to Kittery to look at the health club. And a young analyst in his office was sorting out hundreds of financial records he’d subpoenaed. Sacco had even found a teenager who said Lance had tried to recruit her as a prostitute. But she was too afraid to testify.
Finally, Sacco got a call from the Revere police. He’d asked local departments to notify him of any activity with the family, and now the officer on the line was saying he’d heard about a girl from Salem working out of Jonestown. Sacco went to the Salem Police Department and found a missing poster for Jackie on the wall. Sacco alerted several police agencies to be on the lookout for her.
Robbie was shaken by the poster. He and Dawn discussed it and decided the best way to get the heat off was to have Jackie call the missing-child center and assure them she was safe. As an extra precaution, Jackie would make the call from out of state, in case anyone was tracing it. Dawn even rented a room at the Sheraton in Revere to get Jackie into hiding.
The next morning, a prostitute named Brooke Denman who was living with Dawn drove Jackie to New Hampshire. They pulled over at a pay phone in Portsmouth and Jackie made the call. She got an operator with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and said she was okay. Then Jackie got back into the car and headed home to Robbie.
Apparently convinced by Jackie’s story, the missing-child center contacted Salem police to say that she was out of danger. Things returned to normal for a while. Robbie sent Jackie back to the Alpha Club in Connecticut and then to work and live for a few weeks with his relatives in Rhode Island. During this time, Jackie celebrated her 15th birthday.
On a cold day in February 2002, Robbie and Jackie were pulling out of the Town Line Inn on Route 1 in Malden, a spot where prostitutes often book rooms, when Robbie saw the flashing blue lights in his rearview. He pulled over. One of the state police officers charged Robbie with a traffic violation, while the other led Jackie aside to question her. When pressed, Jackie finally gave the officer her real name. They drove her to the barracks in Danvers and called the FBI agent who’d been asking about her.
This was Charlie Sacco’s best chance yet for a break in the Jones case. He had decades of experience quizzing witnesses, and when he got to the barracks, he set right in with Jackie, working fast and businesslike. What did she know about the Joneses? Had she ever been to a massage parlor in Maine?
Jackie didn’t trust Sacco. She knew if it ever came out that she’d been talking to the cops, she’d be beaten, and maybe worse. She’d only heard about the club, she said. Disappointed, Sacco left the barracks and dove back into his investigation. Jackie, meanwhile, was placed in the custody of the state Department of Youth Services and transferred to a lockup in Dorchester. Though she barely knew her father, who was now living in Indiana with his new family, the two got in touch, and he agreed to let her live with him and paid for her plane ticket. The arrangement would be short-lived. The two quarreled bitterly, and Jackie began calling Robbie, who was always willing to listen.
Robbie eventually wired Jackie money for a bus ticket. The trip back to Massachusetts took 23 hours. By the summer of 2002, she was again working as a prostitute. Soon after, she also got together with a new boyfriend. Less than six months later, she found out she was pregnant.
With no one willing to testify against the Joneses, Sacco decided that his best bet was to go after the brothels where they sent their prostitutes. FBI technicians tried secretly videotaping the Danish Health Club parking lot in Kittery, but the images came back too grainy to use. Next, Sacco convinced the owner of a building across the street from the club to let him use the top floor. Throughout April 2002, FBI investigators showed up each morning before the Danish opened and stayed until after it closed around 10 p.m. They photographed customers arriving in minivans, pickup trucks, BMWs—as many as 250 cars a week, including a few from places like Brookline, Concord, and Lexington. One man had a baby in his arms. Sacco filed thousands of images from the stakeout as evidence.
The investigation was finally starting to gain momentum. But before long Sacco encountered two big problems. He wanted to try interviewing Jackie again, but no one knew where she was—she’d disappeared. Furious, he was forced to start all over again, asking his police contacts to keep an eye out for her. Sacco was also getting static from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, which would have to prosecute whatever he put together. He was hearing that the office thought the investigation was a waste of time, that he ought to just shut the whole thing down. Sacco had faced this kind of resistance before. Back when he was working in New York, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District would sometimes take a pass on a file and Sacco would have to march over to the Eastern District to see if he could interest them instead. If Massachusetts wanted to drag its feet, he would take his case to Maine.
Sacco got in touch with the Internal Revenue Service office in Portland. His plan was to target the Danish Health Club’s financial records. The IRS agent he met with, Rod Giguere, saw the case’s potential, and together they pitched it to an assistant U.S. attorney in Maine. He was skeptical. If it was so good, why hadn’t Massachusetts snapped it up? Sacco and Giguere kept pressing, however, and their zeal eventually won over the prosecutor.
In the early going, Massachusetts remained halfheartedly involved in the case, but tensions soon surfaced. At a meeting in Boston, a Massachusetts prosecutor said his office was just too busy, and that there was no grand jury availability for at least two months. At that, one of his counterparts from Maine exploded. “That’s a fucking lie. Don’t fucking lie to me!”
Maine decided to go it alone—Massachusetts could do whatever it wanted. The authorities in Boston were outraged. They complained to the FBI that Sacco had gone behind their backs. In December 2003, the bureau assigned Sacco a partner, a female agent specially trained in investigating crimes against children. It also happened that her new post kept her close enough to Sacco to keep track of his efforts.
As the state of Maine was pursuing its investigation, the Danish Health Club was beset by a string of management problems. Joel Lehrer, the owner, had died. His widow, Susan, tried running things, but that didn’t go very well. When she wasn’t leaving bank deposits in her trunk, she was nodding off on the job. That left daily oversight to Gary Reiner, the longtime attorney for a Lynnfield woman named Mary Ann Manzoli, who had a financial stake in the club.
Reiner was a respected member of the Seacoast community. A former Kittery town councilor, he’d argued cases before the Maine Supreme Court, coached soccer in his spare time, and even took troubled kids into his home. To improve sagging revenues, Reiner invested more than $14,000 of the club’s money in advertisements in the Portland Phoenix, the Boston Phoenix, and Xtreme, a magazine given away in strip clubs. He had an artist recommended by the Boston Phoenix design a new logo for the club as well.
To shield the Danish from legal liability, Reiner made the girls sign contracts acknowledging they were independent contractors, not employees. He also hired an ex-cop named Russell Pallas for $800 a week to man the front desk. Pallas’s wife worked at the club, too, servicing clients in the back.
One day in the spring of 2002, Reiner got a visit from Lance Williams. He’d heard from Robbie, who’d heard it from one of his girls, that the health club’s parking lot was under surveillance. “You’re being watched by the FBI from across the street,” Lance said. Reiner didn’t seem concerned. The club had been investigated several times since opening in 1984 and nothing serious had ever come of it—not even when a naked customer was found dead nearby in 1987. Besides, Reiner was plugged in with Kittery Police Chief Ed Strong. He’d negotiated the chief’s contract with the town, handled his divorce, and officiated at his second wedding. (It was the type of connection that had Sacco uneasy enough that he kept his surveillance secret from the local police.) Reiner didn’t see anything to be worried about.
Charlie Sacco’s cell phone rang on Sunday, April 13, 2003, just as he was sitting down to his morning coffee. The Malden police had picked up Jackie at the Town Line, the same motel where she’d been arrested the year before.
Sacco jumped into his car and headed for the Malden police station. It occurred to him as he drove that if he were ever going to reach this girl, he would have to change his approach. The gentle touch didn’t come easy to a guy like Sacco, who’d spent his working life knocking heads with rough customers, but he would give it a try.
In the police department parking lot, Sacco reached into his trunk and took out a blanket that had belonged to his father while he was in the Army. Then he walked inside to meet Jackie, now 16, for the second time. He was not going to let her slip through the cracks again.
Jackie was in a spare cell, six months pregnant and scared the state was going to take her baby away. Sacco wrapped his father’s blanket around her shoulders. “Everything is going to be okay,” he said. “I’ll never lie to you. We’re going to get through this.”
Jackie was charged with violating her probation, and the Malden police sent her back to the DYS facility in Dorchester. Sacco began working behind the scenes on her behalf. He visited a psychologist he knew at the juvenile court, telling the woman about everything Jackie had been through.
The psychologist was moved. She went to see the judge who would be hearing Jackie’s case. As soon as the psychologist mentioned where Jackie had been arrested, the judge knew where the story was going. Several girls had come through the court in the past few months after being picked up at the Town Line.
For the first time, the legal system was beginning to regard Jackie as a victim rather than a criminal. The judge assigned Jackie a legal guardian, a local attorney she trusted, and summoned Sacco, the guardian, the psychologist, and Jackie’s probation officer to her chambers. They negotiated a deal that would get Jackie out of the Dorchester lockup and into a residential program in Burlington, Vermont, where she could have her baby and receive parenting training. Most important, Jackie wouldn’t be required to testify against Lance or Robbie. In exchange, she would have to agree to stay away from the brothers, along with the Town Line motel.
“If you want out, we can provide a safety net for you,” the judge told Jackie when she and the rest of Jackie’s team went to Dorchester to present her with the terms. “I will give you the best of the best, but I can’t drag you out.” Jackie looked at the judge blankly. She didn’t particularly believe her, but there was no other way to keep her baby. She accepted the deal.
Jackie was transferred to Burlington. Sacco arranged for the FBI to pick up most of the bills at the costly residential center, and the state of Vermont paid the rest, even though Jackie wasn’t a resident. She lived there for about a year, giving birth to a healthy baby boy during her stay. Sacco, the psychologist, and the guardian would come to see her once a month. At Christmas, Sacco drove the whole team to Burlington through a snowstorm, bringing the baby blankets and a teddy bear.
Over the course of Sacco’s visits, he interviewed Jackie for a total of 30 hours. Jackie confirmed she had worked at the Alpha Club in Connecticut, information Sacco passed along to another FBI agent. The FBI and IRS raided the club in October 2003, finding, among other things, an application Jackie had filled out. Investigators also discovered that 11 prostitutes there had worked in Kittery as well.
Jackie came to believe that Sacco was genuinely committed to keeping her safe. She decided to testify before a grand jury in Maine hearing evidence against the Danish Health Club. During preparations for her testimony, one attorney asked her why she had ever worked as a prostitute in the first place. “I didn’t have a choice,” she said defiantly. “I needed to survive.”
Jackie testified in a Portland, Maine, courtroom in February 2004. The
case against the Joneses was nearly complete. But Sacco wouldn’t be there to see their fall. That same month, the FBI took him off the investigation. He retired two months later. To this day, the judge who arranged the terms of Jackie’s deal calls him “my personal hero.”
A little before 2 p.m. on June 9, 2004, a man named Kevin Foley visited the Danish Health Club, as he’d done a dozen times before. In the massage room, he and his favorite prostitute, Carrie Pallas, agreed on $200 for full service. She put a condom on him and they started having sex.
Out front, Carrie’s husband, Russell Pallas, monitored feeds from the club’s 14 surveillance cameras. Someone pressed the door buzzer. Pallas could see that the guy was wearing something he recognized from his days as a cop—a raid vest. He leaned over and pressed the club’s alarm, but it was too late.
FBI and IRS agents and state police troopers flooded into the building. There was sex paraphernalia everywhere—in a container of baby wipes, in the desk drawer, and in the break room alongside a refrigerator stocked with Barq’s root beer. They located the club’s computer in a back office and copied the hard drive. The agents busting into Foley’s massage room found him lying on the table, covered only by the towel Carrie had hastily tossed over him.
IRS agent Rod Giguere reviewed the boxes of checks, bank statements, and massage receipts the raid netted. Between 1999 and 2004, he calculated, the club took in $6.1 million in door fees alone, nearly $5 million of it in cash. In that time, the Danish Health Club prostitutes collected around $12 million.
With Charlie Sacco retired, Jackie lost her strongest advocate in the FBI. When she got out of the Burlington facility in 2004 and needed a place to stay with her baby, she moved back in with Robbie.
By the end of the year, Russell Pallas had agreed to testify. As an ex-cop, he knew that the first person to cooperate gets the best deal (and he did—just six months in prison). Mary Ann Manzoli, the club’s silent partner, pleaded guilty to a money laundering charge. Lance and his girlfriend, Cheryl, pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor; he wept when his 11 1/2-year sentence was handed down. Reiner, like Pallas and Manzoli, was not accused of prostituting a minor. A jury found him guilty of other money laundering and prostitution charges and sentenced him to five years in prison (a verdict he is appealing). He and Manzoli were forced to turn over nearly $4 million in cash and assets. The Maine attorney general, meanwhile, spent nine months investigating Chief Ed Strong and the Kittery Police Department, finding no evidence of wrongdoing. The Danish Health Club never reopened. The building was sold to a local developer, who demolished it to make way for condos.
Robbie Williams heard what had happened to his brother and left for Indiana to study carpentry at a trade school. Jackie called him one last time on August 3, 2005, as she was moving out of his apartment. The conversation was brief. “As friends we had a lot of love for each other,” Robbie recalled. “That was the last thing she said to me.” Two days later, he was arrested and turned over to U.S. marshals. The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office had finally dug into the case. Robbie, Dawn, and Brooke Denman all pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges. They are cooperating with ongoing investigations while they await sentencing.
Jackie is 20 now, and has reconciled with her mother. She and her 3-year-old son no longer live in Massachusetts, though she still checks in from time to time with her former guardian. By getting this far, by remaining alive and staying out of prostitution for three years, Jackie has already beaten the odds. But no one is ready yet to say the fight is won. “You hope that Jackie is going to be okay,” her guardian says. “You just hope.”
Charlie Sacco may have been removed from his own case, but he’s pleased nonetheless. Though the Jones investigation cost him professionally, it was a fitting capstone to his career. He’s proud of the convictions—a total of 14 in three states—that have come of his work so far, but it goes beyond that. Spurred on by cases like Jackie’s, the FBI has partnered with the Department of Justice to finally make child prostitution a national priority. Some 700 people have been arrested over the past four years, and at least 200 child victims have been identified.
Especially gratifying to Sacco is how Jackie’s team came together to protect a little girl who might otherwise have been lost. He still keeps tabs on Jackie, but he, for one, says he knows she’s going to be fine. “She’s a survivor,” he says.