Former Florida Keys Children's Shelter worker gets 32 years for trafficking

A federal judge sentenced a former mentor at the Florida Keys Children's Shelter to 32 years in prison Wednesday after a jury convicted him in November of child sex trafficking.

U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke also sentenced Ricky Atkins, 29, of Key Largo to lifetime supervised release.

Atkins was convicted in Miami federal court of taking two shelter runaway teen girls to a mainland motel where his partner, Sandra Simon, was waiting to prostitute the then 15- and 16-year-olds.

Simon, 24, from Homestead, had already pleaded guilty and cooperated with the government in its case against Atkins. She was sentenced to 11 years in prison in November.

Atkins was arrested by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and a Miami-Dade County State Attorney's office human-trafficking task force on Sept. 10, 2014. The FBI brought charges against him in December 2014.

Atkins had worked at the Tavernier shelter for three years as a mentor to its at-risk residents.

His trial, which started in October, consisted of three weeks of testimony from the two victims, a task force detective, an FBI agent and two former colleagues of Atkins who spoke on his behalf. Jurors also heard audio and videotape testimony given by the victims to police and federal agents, and jurors read some of Atkins' texts to and from Simon appearing to be conversations about the girls' prostitution profits.

At one point in the trial, Atkins acknowledged -- yet downplayed -- his role in delivering two girls to a mainland motel where they were prostituted last year.

"All I did was drop somebody off," Atkins said. He made those remarks before Cooke brought the jury into the courtroom in downtown Miami.

At the time, Atkins was arguing with both Cooke and his attorney, Alex Michaels, whom Atkins accused of not doing enough to suppress text messages on his phone as evidence against him in the trial.

Atkins maintained that the police and federal agents looked through his phone in between the time he was arrested by the Sheriff's Office and task force in September 2014 and when the FBI obtained a warrant for the phone 30 days later.

Atkins had reason to worry about what was on his phone.

In the days before FBI Special Agent Amanda Detterline went over the device's contents during the trial, the government put on the stand the two shelter girls -- who were 15 and 16 when they were prostituted from Miami-Dade County to Tampa in August 2014.

But some of their testimony differed from audio and videotaped interviews they initially gave law enforcement when they were first returned to the shelter after being found in Sarasota County. In those interviews, Atkins was never mentioned.

Until the final week of the trial, a juror could have reasonably believed Atkins simply drove the girls out of the Keys on Aug. 15, 2014, but had little or nothing to do with them being prostituted once they arrived at the Motel 6 in Cutler Ridge to meet Simon.

But the texts between Simon and Atkins told a different story. 

"Yo, what it look like," Atkins asked Simon in an Aug. 16, 2014, text.

Simon responded: "The blonde girl did one job last night for $140."

In another text, Atkins asked Simon: "They working?"

Simon responded that she was waiting for a cell phone prosecutors say Atkins bought for her to conduct prostitution business to activate. Then she wrote: "That one dude never came."

In an Aug. 17 exchange between the two, Atkins asked, "How's it going."

Simon responded, "Slow." Atkins replied, "Damn" but seemed pleased when Simon followed with, "One of them just did a call."

"Good," he wrote back.

Later that day, Simon texted Atkins that the older of the two girls "made $160. Well, $150, she took 10 to eat."