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South Florida Couple Arrested for Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a serious federal offense. Recently, South Florida couples who were convicted of sex-trafficking drug-addicted teens were sentenced to federal prison. According to the Sun-Sentinel,

They pimped out underage, drug-addicted teenagers and introduced one girl to a man they called "Pedophile Frank," who gave her drugs and made her "star" in his child porn videos.

On Thursday, the ringleader of the Palm Beach County child sex-trafficking operation, Dontavious Mingel Blake, 33, was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

His former girlfriend, Tara Jo Moore, 27, was sentenced to 15 years.

Though both exploited vulnerable girls, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra said they did not deserve equal punishments.

"Mr. Blake's involvement is really despicable," the judge said.

Blake and Moore controlled the girls by giving them a place to live at their West Palm Beach townhome and feeding them cocaine and pain pills, authorities said.

Though Moore was a full and willing participant in the crimes, the judge said her history, which started with abuse, neglect and attempted suicide in her childhood, also made her another of Blake's victims.

"She's a victim of a manipulative, controlling, unscrupulous individual who preyed on her in a similar way to the way he preyed upon the victims of their crimes," the judge said.

Marra said it was another telling example of a trend he's noticed in his federal courtroom in West Palm Beach: women who wind up in serious trouble because they got involved with unsuitable men.”

"The only reason why they're here is because of the choices they make regarding the men," Marra said. "They make ridiculous choices and they find themselves sitting here. It's a tragedy."

“The fact that Moore was manipulated was not an excuse,” the judge said, “but it helped to explain her conduct.”

Moore's lawyer Peter Patanzo said Blake controlled Moore by physically abusing her, even punching her in the face. “If she didn't answer his calls immediately and comply with his demands, Blake withheld money and cigarettes,” Patanzo said.

Blake and Moore have been locked up since their arrests in February 2013 and faced a maximum of life in federal prison. They must register as sex offenders when they are released.

Blake cried and begged for mercy when he addressed the judge.

"Give glory to God," he said, before apologizing to his victims, to Moore, and to his family. "I apologize for being led astray by my greed and selfishness."

Moore also apologized and said she wound up in "the lowest place" because she had been "looking for love and to be loved."

"It was never my intention to hurt anyone, yet I realize so many people have been hurt," she said.

Blake liked to recruit young women and girls he saw on the street as he drove in traffic, prosecutor Lothrop Morris said.

Blake picked up Moore that way and soon persuaded her to work as a prostitute for him.

But Moore quit prostituting herself after less than a month because, she said, she couldn't bear to do it anymore.

Prosecutors said she had no qualms about working for Blake's company, "Divine Escorts," which advertised on Backpage.com and offered prostitution services from young women and underage girls.

The girls they trafficked were 15 and 16 and were required to go on dozens of "prostitution dates," prosecutors said.

One of the girls met one of the couple's clients, Frank Joseph Smith, who was listed as "Pedophile Frank" in Blake and Moore's cellphone contacts, according to court records. Smith, 61, formerly of Jupiter, pleaded guilty to production of child porn in 2012. He is serving 20 years in federal prison.

In November, a jury found the couple guilty of pimping out underage teen girls in Palm Beach County. They were convicted of two counts of sex-trafficking minors — two girls ages 15 and 16 — and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor.

Before the case went to the jury, the judge acquitted the couple of three other charges that they sex trafficked two adult women who were being treated for pain pill addictions at a local drug rehab center.

The FBI investigation began in 2012 after a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that the two were advertising an underage girl's sexual services on Backpage.com.