A 19-year-old woman described in startling detail how a man she thought was her friend put a gun to her head and told her that she was his property.
“He was in my face threatening me,” she testified in a Brooklyn courtroom last week. “He said that I’m going to make money for him — that I’m going to call him ‘daddy.’ ”
The teen also told a rapt jury she was sold for sex at age 17, servicing men in dark cars and in shabby rooms. During the two weeks of hell, her accused pimp, Robert Pannell (pictured), plied her with drugs and took every nickel she earned.
“I was scared of him,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t go anywhere, do anything.”
Her disturbing testimony offers a rare glimpse into the shadowy world of forced prostitution — where the lives of pimps and gang members, and troubled teens and runaways, intersect.
Since the Brooklyn district attorney formed a special unit to investigate such crimes nearly three years ago, indictments were filed against 53 defendants, resulting in 24 guilty pleas and four dismissals. Twenty-five cases are still pending, officials said.
The case against Pannell, which continues Monday with the 19-year-old still on the stand, is the first to go to trial. Pannell faces life in prison if convicted of kidnapping, rape and other charges.
The alleged victim — who frequently ran away from home and her crack-addicted mom — met Pannell when she was 16. She testified that she had a previous sexual relationship with the suspect. Still, prosecutors are confident they can get a conviction.
“The guy starts out as a boyfriend and then turns into a monster,” said Michael Vecchione, Racket Division chief at the district attorney’s office, which oversees the Sex Trafficking Unit. “That’s how it goes for the most part.”
Pannell, 36, has a long rap sheet that includes drug and assault convictions — but no sex crimes. He’s a member of the Bloods gang, the alleged victim testified.
She said after he threatened her in his Brownsville apartment on April 15, 2011, he gave her Ecstasy and they drove to Broadway Junction, where she had to walk the dark, desolate streets underneath the elevated subway tracks. She had two johns and made $160. The paltry sum earned her a beating the next morning.
Pannell made her pose in pink undies for website backpage.com where she was advertised as “Sasha, new in town,” the teen testified. He demanded sex even when she “was feeling really drained,” and took her to a dingy motel to meet “dates.” Finally, she was able to call her mom.
“I told her that I was in a bad situation and I was unable to come home,” she recalled.
A day later, on April 29, a cop knocked on the door and found her behind the shower curtain — where she said Pannell ordered her to hide. Her testimony will continue Monday with a potentially brutal cross-examination.
Defense lawyer David Jacobs argued that Pannell’s girlfriend and 66-year-old mother stayed at the same apartment and will testify they saw no abuse or prostitution. The alleged victim was always free to leave, he added.
Read more: NY Daily News