Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Special agents with the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General arrested an Albuquerque man who they say was prostituting his 7-year-old female relative in exchange for “weed and pipes and other stuff.”
James Stewart, 37, is charged with human trafficking, abuse of a child, promoting prostitution and other crimes believed to have been committed over the past three years. He was found at Motel 76 on Candelaria NE early Thursday morning and booked into the county jail.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court, the girl told investigators that Stewart would make her touch his friends’ (both male and female) genitalia in exchange for drugs. She said she “does not enjoy performing these sexual acts and is scared someone will touch her private parts.”
The girl also said she would go to “secret parties” – later determined to be strip clubs – where Stewart’s wife performed and she was left alone while the wife got very intoxicated.
Both the girl and her brother told agents they were encouraged to steal and pickpocket and to panhandle on street corners by themselves.
Agents are still gathering evidence and investigating to see whether anyone else will be charged, said James Hallinan, a spokesman for the attorney general.
The AG’s Office said it first became aware of the case when a nurse at an Albuquerque Public Schools elementary school called to say she believed she had encountered a victim of human trafficking and sexual assault.
The school’s principal and a teacher told agents the girl would make comments about “hustling” and had once been dropped off at school wearing high heels, press-on nails, makeup and with her hair “done.”
They said the family is homeless and the girl and her brother are frequently absent from school, fall asleep in class and are often unkempt.
Monica Armenta, an APS spokeswoman, said she cannot discuss the case or the role of the school employees.
“We are extremely concerned with the well-being of the child and don’t want to risk divulging any information that could identify the child,” she said.
The children and an older brother are now in the custody of the state Children, Youth and Families Department, said spokesman Henry Varela.
According to the AG’s complaint, when the siblings were taken into CYFD custody, they told investigators they had not eaten for about 24 hours.
By the time the Attorney General’s Office began investigating the case, the Albuquerque Police Department had already encountered the family multiple times since 2012, including two more recent incidents involving suspicions of sexual abuse, according to the complaint.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, did not answer several detailed questions about previous interactions, but he wrote in an email, “We are going through the complaint, tracking down reports and assessing how the department responded to past allegations of abuse.”
According to the AG’s complaint, in October 2016, APD investigated after the children reported they had been left alone with a “random neighbor” who said it was “OK” for children to touch him and fondled them over their clothing. Agents said there is no record of either child undergoing a forensic interview – a specialized interview designed to bring out information about mistreatment or abuse – and the status of the case is unknown.
The school employees said that last November they called APD and CYFD to report that the girl showed up particularly unkempt and smelling of urine. They said that when they helped her change into clean clothes, they noticed she had bloodstains on her underwear.
According to the complaint, an officer came to the school and took a report, but agents could not find any records about it.
But the agents did find a report from the following day that shows Albuquerque police and CYFD investigators visited Stewart and his wife at a hotel off Interstate 25 in reference to the school’s report to CYFD.
Police performed a welfare check on the children and determined “there was nothing that would cause concern of (the children) being abused in any way,” according to the complaint. Officers noted school employees had reported finding bloodstains in the girl’s underwear, but they did not say if they found an explanation.
According to the complaint, the girl did not receive a forensic interview or a sexual assault examination at that time.
While neither of those cases resulted in a forensic interview, the girl had been through one in May 2017 after she had told teachers she “feels uncomfortable when sleeping with (Stewart) because of the way he holds me.” According to the complaint, the girl and her brother did not disclose sexual abuse but did show signs of physical and emotional abuse.
The agent said he could not find a police report related to that interview. He said agents were told that the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office also had been involved, but the sheriff’s office didn’t have an open case on the incident either.
CYFD is looking into anything it could have missed in previous interactions with the family, spokesman Varela said.
“As of now, the secretary has ordered an in-depth audit and review of case files so we can see if policies and procedures were or weren’t followed,” he said. “From there we will be able to make a determination if there are any next steps we need to move forward with.”