Crime & Courts

June 9, 2011

Pair charged in sex trafficking

For the second time in six months, two men have been charged in Sedgwick County with buying and selling a teenage girl for sex.

For the second time in six months, two men have been charged in Sedgwick County with buying and selling a teenage girl for sex.

The girl advertised herself as an escort on the Internet site, giving her age as 19. She actually had just turned 15 when police found her at a Wichita motel.

Mike Neloms, 25, is charged with aggravated trafficking.

Michael Gress, 54, faces charges of engaging in sexual intercourse and sodomy with the girl and patronizing a prostitute.

Police arrested the men late last month at the Motel 6 at 465 S. Webb. They are scheduled to return to court next week for a preliminary hearing.

Two other women also had escort ads linked to the girl's posting and are listed as witnesses in the case.

Although the arrests occurred May 28 and the men were charged last week, the 15-year-old's ads remained on on Wednesday.

Authorities say Sedgwick County is one of the few places in the nation pursuing criminal charges against the pimps and johns who trade in the commercial sex industry.

But police and prosecutors say the selling of teens in Wichita is not new.

"This is simply evidence of the emphasis local law enforcement is using to address this problem," said Marc Bennett, deputy district attorney.

Those who work with children in the justice system maintain the girls are victims of sexual exploitation.

"A girl of 15 isn't old enough to drive, rent a room at a motel, or even consent to sex," said Karen Palmer, a Wichita attorney who represents the girl in this case. "It's hypocritical to say she's capable of deciding to get paid for having sex. She has to have someone assisting her."

Boys and girls, on average, enter the sex trade between the ages of 11 and 13, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Often, they are runaways trying to escape abusive homes and are lured into the sex trade as a way to survive.

If convicted, Neloms faces between 12 and 55 years in prison on the aggravated trafficking charge.

Gress could be looking at a prison sentence of between four and 21 years, depending on his criminal history, on each of the sex charges.

The teenager has been charged with misdemeanor prostitution and is being held in the Sedgwick County Juvenile Detention Facility.

In other cases, authorities have filed criminal charges against girls, holding them at the Juvenile Detention Center until they can find them a suitable home.

In March, prosecutors dropped charges against a 13-year-old girl after they had placed her in a foster home.

In that case, James L. Cochran faces rape charges because of the girl's age. The girl testified Cochran would give her money for sex.

Donald L. Davis is charged with rape and human trafficking as the accused pimp.

They both face life prison sentences if convicted.

Cochran is set for trial next week.

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