She was 17 years old when she met a man more than twice her age in the Florida Keys in October.
He flashed a wad of cash at a McDonald’s and told her it could be hers if she worked for him, according to court records. They had sex numerous times, and he gave her the club drug Molly to smoke.
She later told investigators that he took photographs and recorded videos of their sexual encounters on his Apple iPhone, then taught her how to post ads on the internet to sell herself as a prostitute. She said he beat her up when she didn’t make enough money, according to an FBI criminal complaint.
Now, Jason Gatlin, 42, is in federal custody, charged with forcing a minor into sex trafficking and producing child pornography. In Florida, it is a crime to have sex with anyone under the age of 18. Before they had sex, the girl had told him that she was 17, the complaint said.
Gatlin has a long criminal history having served prison time in the state system, including for attempted first-degree murder.
After their initial sexual encounters, Gatlin took the girl to a Motel 6 in Cutler Bay in November and rented a room for a couple of nights so she could have sex with customers who responded to her online ad. She made some money and gave it to Gatlin, who rented the room for two more nights and left her unattended for a while.
When Gatlin returned to the motel on Nov. 28, Gatlin became upset when he discovered she had not made any more money, and “he struck her in the face,” the complaint said.
Gatlin drove her in his black Dodge Ram truck to a residence in Ramrod Key in Monroe County. There, “she had sex with individuals for money” and gave it to Gatlin, according to the complaint.
Desperate, the girl told Gatlin that she would call the police if he did not return her to Miami-Dade County. He struck her in the face and kicked her. “The minor victim became unconscious because of the assault,” according to a federal magistrate judge’s summary of the case.
Gatlin eventually agreed to bring her back to Miami-Dade, and on the way she asked him to let her use a bathroom at a gas station. The ruse worked. She locked herself inside the bathroom and called 911 on Nov. 30.
Gatlin fled before police showed up.
The girl reported that she had been kidnapped and beat up before she found safety in the bathroom. She had lacerations on her lips and a large red bump on her forehead; her clothing was also ripped, according to police. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office took her to a local hospital.
She later identified herself and Gatlin as the individuals having sex in a video recorded on Nov. 11 at the residence in Ramrod Key – the same video that appeared on the online ad promoting her for commercial sex.
“The minor victim reported that [Gatlin] took three of the photographs that appeared in the advertisements,” according to the magistrate judge’s summary.
In early December, Miami-Dade police caught up with Gatlin at a local hotel. He declined to give a statement. He was initially charged by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, but was then transferred to federal custody and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office this month.
On Monday, Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres denied a bond for Gatlin, who is represented by the Miami Federal Public Defender’s Office. The office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
There was, however, an unusual twist in the sex-trafficking case.
While Gatlin was in state custody, the defendant’s mother allowed the 17-year-old girl to stay in her South Florida home, federal prosecutor Jessica Obenauf said during the detention hearing. Gatlin’s mother took the girl to the Miami-Dade Public Defender’sOffice to recant her story about having sex with the son and customers at the Motel 6 in Cutler Bay and the residence in Ramrod Key.
After she recanted having sex with both Gatlin and the johns, the defendant’s mother kicked the girl out of her house, the prosecutor said.