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November 27, 2015

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Prospect of harsher sentences is on the horizon for Las Vegas pimps


Leila Navidi

Ocean Fleming appears in court for sentencing, which was postponed, at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012.

Sex Trafficking in Vegas

Boulder Highway is an area identified by Metro as a hotspot for prostitution and is frequently patrolled by officers. A woman is seen walking north on Boulder Highway north of Lamb Blvd. on Tuesday, October 30, 2012. Launch slideshow »

• Last of a two-part series

Ocean Fleming knows a thing or two about control. It’s how he made his living, pimping out at least four young women and raking in profits authorities say could have topped several million dollars.

That world crashed on Sept. 29, 2011, when Metro Police arrested Fleming — hailed as "O" on Las Vegas streets — after a violent episode involving a prostitute. In August, a Clark County jury convicted Fleming of multiple charges, including first-degree kidnapping, pandering, coercion with force and assault with use of a deadly weapon.

Now he sits in a Clark County Detention Center jail cell, his future beyond his control, awaiting sentencing by a judge later this month.

• • •

The Fleming case is one of two that has thrust sentencings of convicted pimps into the Las Vegas spotlight this year, ahead of proposed legislation that would create stiffer penalties for this class of criminals.

In July, a Clark County judge sentenced another convicted pimp, 48-year-old Raymond Sharpe, to 13 life terms in prison. One of those life sentences, for first-degree kidnapping with a deadly weapon, mandates he serve the term without the possibility of parole.

Detective Cathy Hui, who works in Metro’s vice section, said the cases send a strong warning to other active pimps: Pandering — forcing or persuading a person to engage in prostitution — and other related crimes, especially those involving violence, will not be tolerated.

If Sharpe and Fleming remained free, Hui said, "(Pimps) would think the laws weren’t strong enough, and they could get away with it."

For Fleming, prosecutors are seeking a life sentence with the possibility of parole on the first-degree kidnapping conviction, according to a sentencing memorandum.

Fleming is not stranger to the justice system. Years ago, he served a term in federal prison where the "defendant only learned to be a better criminal and make it tougher to catch/prosecute him by manipulating, brutalizing, and terrifying the victims that he chose to sell to ensure they would never seek police assistance or testify against him in court," state prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum.

The cases are unique, however, because the stiff sentencing for Sharpe — and the possible similar outcome for Fleming — did not stem from the pandering charge alone, prosecutors said. A judge determined Sharpe was a habitual offender, thus enhancing his penalties.

Under current law, pandering an adult without the use of physical force or threats carries a prison sentence of one to four years, according to the Nevada Revised Statutes.

Even if a person is convicted of pandering a child and receives a 10-year prison sentence, the pimp likely will be released in three or four years, said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

"That’s not very much," he said. "I think there’s good reason for a push to increase the penalties."

Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto agrees. Her office is drafting a bill that would crack down on defendants convicted of sex trafficking.

The bill, to be introduced during next year’s legislative session, would change the word "pandering" to "sex trafficking," thus aligning state law with federal statutes while increasing penalties, said Michon Martin, chief deputy attorney general for Nevada. The new sex-trafficking statute in Nevada would increase the felony categories for the crime, leading to stiffer penalties, she said.

For instance: Pandering an adult through physical force or threats — currently a category C felony punishable by one to five years in prison — would be considered a B felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

People convicted of pandering juveniles would face a minimum of 10 years in prison under the proposed law, Martin said.

"The longer they’re on the streets, the more access they have to victims," Martin said, referring to those convicted of sex trafficking. She added that many pimps convicted of pandering-related offenses under current law wind up receiving probation.

Martin said other provisions of the bill include:

• Establishing a civil cause of action so sex-trafficking victims could file lawsuits against their pimps

• Enhancing asset forfeiture capabilities of the court for those convicted of sex-trafficking crimes, with the proceeds going toward victims and victim services

• Requiring those convicted of sex trafficking to register on the state’s sex offender registry.

"We want to make sure the community knows who’s living where so they can make an informed decision about where they want to be and who has access to their children," she said, referring to the provision about the sex offender registry.

Martin expects the bill draft to be pre-filed later this month or in early December.

Wolfson, whose office prosecutes a couple hundred sex-trafficking-related cases each year, said he supported the proposed legislation.

"I would be willing to go up there to testify if called upon to provide our office’s position," he said.

• • •

The proposed legislation serves as another avenue to heighten the public’s awareness about sex trafficking, particularly the violence often surrounding it, authorities say.

"It’s brutally ugly," said Lt. Karen Hughes, who oversees Metro’s vice section.

A public act of violence is what ultimately led to Fleming’s demise more than a year ago. That’s when one of his prostitutes, a young woman named April, fled a Rhodes Ranch home and desperately flagged down a neighbor backing out of her driveway, according to court records.

April jumped into the woman’s car, but Fleming blocked them in the driveway — threatening to throw a large rock through the window until the neighbor unlocked the car door. Fleming then dragged the young woman away.

Two days later, Metro vice detectives found April at a Las Vegas home. After nearly 30 minutes of knocking, "The door opened just enough for (April) to be pushed outside. Once April was outside, the door immediately slammed shut," according to court records.

Detectives observed on April several recent injuries: a laceration on her forehead, a swollen right eye, a bruise on her left eye, multiple face scratches, reddening on her neck and an abrasion on her left shoulder.

April, however, was at first reluctant to speak with detectives — a scenario police say is all too common, based on a victim’s fear of her pimp.

Detectives’ investigation revealed an operation ruled by Fleming, who kept photos on his cell phone of him holding wads of cash.

One photograph showed the words "HOE DOE" spelled out on his bedroom floor, surrounded by hundred-dollar bills and several pairs of stiletto heels, according to court records.

Fleming provided the women with luxury vehicles, such as a Range Rover and Mercedes sedan, to drive, but he confiscated their earnings from prostitution, according to court records.

And if the women failed to make enough money, Fleming beat them. That’s how April wound up begging a neighbor to help her on Sept. 28, 2011: She tried to escape after coming home empty-handed one night.

A day later, on Sept. 29, 2011, police arrested Fleming, whom they considered one of the city’s most notorious pimps.

"He was a gangster; he was a big pimp," Hui said. "He was very, very, violent, and we know he has been violent for years."

Fleming’s sentencing, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed until Nov. 13.

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