Sunday, March 3, 2024

TX Teen Trafficked from NBA Game, Family Sues Hotel Where She Was Held Hostage with ‘AK-47’

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The family of a Texas teenager who was kidnapped from a Mavericks game in Dallas in April 2022, only to be trafficked and found in an Oklahoma City hotel room 10 days later, has now filed a lawsuit against the hotel chain.

As CBN’s Faithwire reported, the then-15-year-old girl from North Richland Hills, Texas, was at a Dallas Mavericks game with her father at the American Airlines Center in Dallas when she went to the bathroom right before halftime, according to KVUE-TV. Surveillance footage seen later that night showed the girl leaving the arena with a man, never returning to her seat at the game.

Oklahoma City Police found the young teenager a week and a half later at the Extended Stay America hotel at the Oklahoma City airport. She was rescued after the girl’s parents identified her through nude photos posted online, advertising her for sex.

In total, it was 11 days before the girl was reunited with her parents, family attorney Zeke Fortenberry said at the time. 

“This girl was being sexually assaulted in a hotel room multiple nights,” Fortenberry said. “Any time she could have been rescued from that sooner would have been better.”

He contends the hotel staff should have immediately noticed something was off, explaining, “When a 40-something-year-old man walks in with a 15-year-old girl and rents multiple hotel rooms, and then there is traffic coming in and out of those rooms, those are red flags.”

Oklahoma City Police arrested eight people in connection with the heinous crime. Authorities charged them with various crimes, ranging from felony warrants to human trafficking rape.  

Kenneth Nelson, 44, is currently serving a 25-year sentence in Oklahoma after pleading guilty to felony charges of manufacturing child pornography, distributing child pornography, child abuse, and human trafficking related to the girl’s case, according to WFAA-TV.

The outlet also reported the lawsuit claims hotel surveillance video showed the teenager was in a room with Nelson at the hotel. 

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Family Sues Hotel Chain, Related Companies

Fortenberry, representing the girl’s family, filed the 90-page civil lawsuit in Dallas County last week and names multiple corporations and entities as defendants including ESH Strategies Franchise LLC and Extended Stay America, Inc. which make up “Defendant ESA Corporate,” WFAA-TV reported. 

Also named in the lawsuit are Dallas-based Provident Hospitality Holdings LLC, and Aimbridge Hospitality. Provident Hospitality owns the Extended Stay America hotel at the Oklahoma City Airport, and Aimbridge Hospitality is responsible for managing it, the outlet reported. 

In a statement to media outlets, Aimbridge Hospitality declined to comment due to “ongoing litigation.”

CBN News has reached out to Extended Stay America, and Provident for comment. We’ll post it here if we hear back. 

“On behalf of the family, our most important concern was that the bad guys were held accountable in the criminal justice system, so we waited for that to happen … and now we can think about turning our attention to corporate responsibility,” Fortenberry, the family’s attorney, told Fox News Digital.

The victim “was given alcohol and numerous narcotics, including methamphetamines” and the Texas suspect allegedly sold the victim to an “unknown adult male who transported her from Dallas, Texas to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.” She was then taken to Nelson, a convicted sex offender, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit also alleges that hotel staff “either failed to recognize the signs of human trafficking or chose to turn a blind eye and ignore what was happening to {the teen} and never made any report of human trafficking.”

The complaint claims several signs of trafficking should have given hotel employees cause to call the authorities. It alleges the girl came into the hotel “visibly upset and crying.” It states, “Nelson’s two acquaintances escorted her back to a hotel room and the Defendant Hotel Manager’s employee did nothing to help {the teen} and returned to work behind the front desk.”

The girl was also seen “under the influence of a controlled substance and staggering up and down” one of the hallways of the hotel. In addition, on more than one occasion, a man “with an AK-47 style assault rifle” was seen walking up and down the hallway. 

The girl’s family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

One suspect allegedly involved in the sex trafficking ring was arrested in January 2023. Emanuel Jose Cartagena, 34, had been on parole for two months at the time he allegedly trafficked the 15-year-old girl, according to Fox News. 

In October 2023, a Dallas County grand jury declined to indict Cartagena, citing a lack of evidence to charge him with sexual assault of a child, the outlet reported. 

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