Prosecution rests, defense revs up in Putnam & Thongsy case
As the trial of Stephen Putnam and Syla Thongsy moved into its third week, both the prosecution and defense tried to answer the question of whether the Roseville couple controlled and profited from teenage prostitution by exploring what actually defines a pimp in the new era of technology.
By Wednesday afternoon, jurors had heard about “gorilla pimps,” “finesse pimps,” “independent escorts” and several allegations of troubling teenage behavior.
Placer County Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Macumber has now rested her case and defense lawyers Dionne Choyce and Daniel Nicholson are calling their own witnesses.
Macumber’s last major witness was Sacramento Police Detective Derek Stigerts, a recognized expert on adult and teen prostitution in the region and a member of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force. Stigerts described the typical pimp as a master manipulator with a knack for seeing and exploiting emotional wounds or weaknesses in girls — and then using those same vulnerabilities to make women prostitutes under their control. Stigerts talked about several classifications for such men and women: One was “gorilla pimps,” or highly violent pimps who use physical abuse and menacing threats to “work the girls hard” and take all their money. Another classification Stigerts mentioned was “finesse pimps,” who employ a more subtle style of control, often using “honeymoon periods” and imagined emotional connections to convince girls to prostitute for them. Stigerts added that after a while, even with so-called finesse pimps, there is always a consequence for prostitutes who don’t follow their orders and pay them regularly.
Stigerts added that prostitutes have told him they are sometimes afraid to turn on their pimps not only because of physical violence, but also due to threats of blackmail, such as the pimp outing a girl to her friends and family on social media sites.
One of the two alleged victims in the case, Angelica, earlier testified she was afraid to leave Putnam and Thongsy’s company in the summer of 2010 for a host of reasons, including being beaten up by Thongsy or her friends. Angelica has also testified that after she came forward to the Roseville Police Department, the other alleged teen victim in the case, Terri, told dozens of people in their south Sacramento neighborhood Angelica was “a snitch” and then made embarrassing accusations against her.
During cross-examination, Choyce attempted to use Stigerts' expertise to dispute the notion Thongsy was anything other than an independent prostitute who Terri and Angelica may or may not have emulated.
Referring to a road trip where Thongsy took the girls to Oakland — and Thongys allegedly worked as an escort while the girls stayed in another room — Choyce asked Stigerts, “Based on your training and experience, if a pimp is going to take a girl out onto the ‘circuit,’ how often does the pimp want that girl working?”
“As much as possible,” Stigerts said.
Throughout the trial, Choyce has maintained Thongsy is an independent call girl, but not a pimp or someone who associates with pimps. He broached this topic with Stigert.
“Would you say, in your career, the Internet has been a revolutionizing force in prostituting and pimping?” Choyce inquired.
“It has taken it to a whole other level,” Stigerts replied.
“Would you say, now with the Internet, there are more independent prostitutes who can work without pimps?” Choyce went on.
“The Internet has made it easier for prostitutes to go ‘renegade’ and work without pimps,” Stigerts said. “There are more independent girls than there were.”
Nicholson followed up on the point. “What’s the No. 1 thing that makes you a pimp?” he asked the detective.
“Money,” Stigerts answered.
“If you’re not making money from a prostitute, or not deriving support from her, you’re not a pimp?” Nicholson asked.
“I would say, no,” Stigerts said.
During re-direct examination, the prosecutor had one more question for her expert witness.
“How many juvenile prostitutes that you’ve talked to do you think are independent?” Macumber asked.
Stigerts looked up: “In my opinion, zero.”
Macumber soon rested her case.
Choyce was the first defense attorney to call a witness. Choyce brought Taniara Chantavong to the stand, a self-described model and former “escort” from Sacramento. Chantavong testified that Angelica and Terri came to her West Sacramento apartment one night with Thongsy. Chantavong said both girls claimed they were 18 and 19. Chantavong also told the jury that Angelica — the main accuser in the case — had asked to borrow her laptop, and then took provocative pictures of herself, on her own, in another room while communicating with men on the Internet. Chantavong added there was no apparent direction from Thongsy.
“When I asked her why she was doing that, she just said, ‘Don’t trip, I need some money,’” Chantavong testified.
Other witnesses called by the defense were Julie Thao and Syla Thongy’s brother, Bill Thongsy. Both Thao and Bill Thongsy said they had driven Terri and Angelica to Planned Parenthood in Sacramento during the same time Angelica testified she was afraid to stop living with Thongsy.
“Did they ever act afraid to leave when they asked you to drive them to Planned Parenthood?” Choyce asked Thao.
“No,” she answered.
Thao and Bill Thongsy also told jurors that Terri and Angelica had represented themselves as being 18 and 19.
“You indicated you were 19 at the time,” Choyce pointed out to Thao. “Did the girls appear to you to be 18 and 19?”
“Yes,” Thao said. “With how they looked and dressed and acted, yeah they did.”
The defense will call more witnesses in the Putnam and Thongsy case Monday.
Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at ScottA_RsvPT