United States v. Whyte, 071019 FED11, 17-15223

Docket Nº:17-15223
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. JERMAYNE WHYTE, a.k.a. Turtle, JENNIFER CASTRO, Defendants - Appellants.
Judge Panel:Before WILLIAM PRYOR, NEWSOM, and BRANCH, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 10, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,


JERMAYNE WHYTE, a.k.a. Turtle, JENNIFER CASTRO, Defendants - Appellants.

No. 17-15223

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 10, 2019

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 0:16-cr-60350-WPD-1

Before WILLIAM PRYOR, NEWSOM, and BRANCH, Circuit Judges.


The main issue presented by this appeal is whether the government may prove sex trafficking of a minor, 18 U.S.C. § 1591, by establishing only that a defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the minor victim instead of proving that he knew or recklessly disregarded the victim's age. Jermayne Whyte and Jennifer Castro appeal their convictions and sentences for the sex trafficking of a minor, id.; conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor, id. §§ 1591(a)(1), (b)(2), 1594(c); and knowingly transporting an individual in interstate commerce for the purpose of engaging in prostitution, id. § 2421(a). After A.E., a 16-year-old runaway from California, arrived in Florida, she met Whyte and Castro and lived with them for about two months during which Whyte and Castro obtained work for A.E. at strip clubs and facilitated her prostitution. Notwithstanding our earlier dicta to the contrary in United States v. Mozie, 752 F.3d 1271, 1282 (11th Cir. 2014), we conclude that the 2015 amendment of section 1591 makes clear that the government may satisfy its burden by proving that the defendant had a reasonable opportunity to observe the minor victim. We also conclude that Whyte and Castro's challenges of the jury instructions, the denial of their motion to suppress evidence, a limitation on Castro's cross-examination of A.E., and their sentences all fail. We affirm.


When A.E. was 16 years old, she ran away from her family in California. A.E. had been spending time with people her father considered "thugs," including a man named Marcus Weber. Weber, whom A.E. later described as a "dangerous guy" she could not refuse, coerced A.E. to board a flight to Florida. When A.E. left, she was on probation and could have been punished with up to 15 years of imprisonment for leaving California.

After A.E. arrived in Florida, she began working for an escort agency. The agency posted advertisements for A.E. on Backpage.com, a website that could be used to obtain prostitutes. A.E. began going on what she described as "dates" or engagements in which men paid to have sex with her. During this period, A.E. used several false identities.

Shortly after her arrival in Florida, A.E. received unprompted text messages from Jennifer Castro, an adult prostitute who also worked at strip clubs. Castro told A.E. that she "could put [A.E.] in a better situation." After texting with Castro for two days, A.E. agreed to meet her. When they met in person, Castro came with her partner, Jermayne Whyte, nicknamed "Turtle," and their baby. Whyte and Castro brought A.E. home with them. A.E. lived with Whyte and Castro in their townhouse for most of a two-month period. A.E. slept on the couch, and Whyte and Castro slept in the master bedroom. Whyte and Castro bought A.E. food and clothing. They also gave A.E. marijuana and smoked it with her.

For the first few days, A.E. enjoyed living with Whyte and Castro and performed no work. But then Whyte and Castro encouraged A.E. to work at a strip club. A.E. explained that she had no identification document, but Whyte and Castro obtained a false identification for her. The identification was in the name of "Jessica Berry," who was about 24 or 25 years old. A.E. used this false identification to work at multiple strip clubs. Whyte and Castro drove A.E. to the strip clubs to perform that work.

Whyte and Castro also began prostituting A.E. They both posted ads for A.E. on Backpage.com. They chose the content of the ads and set the price for A.E.'s services. Along with the online ads, Whyte and Castro told A.E. to pick up clients at the strip clubs. And they took her to a nearby Hard Rock Casino to look for clients.

Whyte and Castro managed A.E.'s prostitution. They had a "trick phone" to communicate with A.E.'s "tricks"-i.e., the men who were paying to have sex with her. Whyte pretended to be A.E. in text conversations with her clients because A.E. "didn't know how to talk to them." Whyte and Castro instructed A.E. on how to treat clients, told her to use condoms, and taught her how to identify undercover do it for her. A.E. had no control over the money she made. Whyte would drive A.E. to her engagements, wait for her, and then collect the money. Castro also accompanied A.E. and was sometimes present in the same room as A.E. when she was having sex with a client. When she was working for Whyte and Castro, A.E. saw four to six clients a day.

After a few weeks of working for Whyte and Castro, they took a trip to Atlanta so that A.E. could work in more lucrative strip clubs there. Whyte drove A.E. in a rental car and arranged for A.E. to have sex with a client on their way. Whyte also had sex with A.E. on the trip. When he got tired, Whyte asked A.E. to drive, but she did not know how to drive and hit a traffic cone. Whyte later acknowledged that he needed to teach A.E. how to drive. Castro flew to Atlanta to meet Whyte and A.E., and the three of them stayed in a single hotel room. Whyte and Castro posted Backpage.com ads for A.E. and had her work at two strip clubs. But one strip club would not allow A.E. to work there because her appearance did not match the photograph for her identification and she "look[ed] young."

A.E. left Whyte and Castro a few times. After the Atlanta trip, A.E. left them when Whyte was arrested on an unrelated charge of providing a false identification. A.E. had several conversations with Whyte while he was in jail, which were recorded. Whyte encouraged A.E. to go back to Castro and called them a "family." Castro texted A.E. that she was "not here to play kiddie feelings games with [A.E.]" and rebuked A.E. for being "too scared to deal with problems like a grown person." While Whyte was in jail, Castro maintained the trick phone, and she continued to post A.E. on Backpage.com. Castro refused to return A.E.'s medication and belongings to her. After Whyte was released, A.E. returned to living with Whyte and Castro and working at strip clubs. At one point, A.E. placed a call to a human-trafficking rescue hotline but did not report Whyte and Castro.

Meanwhile, Agent Roy Van Brunt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation received a lead about a runaway minor working as a prostitute at a strip club. When A.E. was working at a strip club one night, the police took her into custody. A.E. first admitted but then denied her true identity. A.E. told the police about her Backpage.com ads under the name "Cali Rose" or "Cali Rosebud," which the police used to locate the account that posted the ads and the phone numbers associated with it. After several weeks of being uncooperative, A.E. admitted her identity to Agent Van Brunt and Detective Nicholas Masters of the Broward County Sheriff's Office, and she told them about Whyte and Castro's role in her prostitution. After A.E. began cooperating with the police, a California court held a hearing to revoke her probation, but the court found that A.E. had not violated her probation.

Based on A.E.'s interview, Detective Masters obtained a search warrant for Whyte and Castro's townhome. Although he knew A.E.'s criminal history, Detective Masters did not include it in his affidavit because he did not think it was relevant. When the police executed the warrant, they found several items that A.E. had described, including two duffel bags containing clothes A.E. had worn while stripping; a drug prescription for "Jessica Berry," the name on A.E.'s false identification; a rental car receipt for the Atlanta trip; and the trick phone.

The police also corroborated A.E.'s story by obtaining phone records that included A.E.'s text messages with Whyte and Castro. The police matched the trick phone with several Backpage.com ads posted for A.E. And the historical cell site data from the trick phone revealed that it had moved from Whyte and Castro's townhome to Atlanta and near several strip clubs, as A.E. had described. When the police interviewed Castro, she described A.E. as "very immature" and stated that she "had questions about her age from almost the first time she met her." Castro also "believed A.E. might be lying about how old she was."

In a superseding indictment, a grand jury indicted Whyte and Castro with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a minor, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591(a)(1), (b)(2), (c), 1594(c); sex trafficking of a minor, id. §§ 1591(a)(1), (b)(2), (c); and knowingly transporting A.E. from Florida to Georgia...

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