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Trial begins for couple accused of ‘pimping’ teens in Roseville

Attorneys give opening arguments, police testify
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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After two and a half years of legal maneuvering, a trial began Tuesday morning for Stephen Putnam and Syla Thongsy — both facing felony charges of pimping and pandering teenage girls in an upscale Roseville neighborhood, possibly through forms of intimidation.

As Placer County jurors hunkered down to learn the details not only of the case, but also of an entire underground lifestyle, Putnam and Thongsy’s two attorneys made it clear they were planning a vigorous defense.

The trial got under way at 8:30 a.m., with Placer County Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Macumber launching in to her opening arguments. Judge Mark S. Curry is presiding.

“During this trial, you’re going to learn about the dark world of prostitution,” she told the jury. “You’ll hear evidence about a beautiful, family-oriented neighborhood in Roseville, and you’ll hear from residents there who began to notice, in 2008, suspicious things happening on that street … you’ll hear testimony that prostitution was going on at 1648 Wood Leaf Circle.”

Macumber went on to explain that Putnam had been facilitating prostitution at the house in 2008, until the Roseville Police Department intervened and arrested him. There was reportedly a lull in the elicit activity until the summer of 2010, when Thongsy and two teenage runaways allegedly began living at Putnam’s house.

“You’ll hear evidence that these (teens) came from broken homes, are chronic runaways and have rebellious natures,” Macumber said. “You will hear about how Thongsy and Putnam took them in and provided them with the nicest house they’d ever lived in, and then you’ll hear evidence the girls began to do exactly what the defendants advised them: to turn tricks.”

Macumber added that Putnam is also charged with inappropriately touching one of the teens. She ended her opening salvo by telling the jury, “In the end, I’m going to ask to find the defendants guilty of bringing this dark world into our backyards.”

The next speaker with an opening argument was Thongsy’s attorney, Dionne Choyce.

“The case of Syla Thongsy is a case of making poor choices, not pimping,” Choyce argued. “This is a story of two runaways that wanted freedom from parental control and were going to live the way they wanted by hustling … this is about women who wanted to make quick money. Their worlds collided with Syla Thongsy because their worlds were very similar … she didn’t control their prostitution, she just offered them advice on how to stay safe.”

Choyce told the jury they would soon hear about Thongsy’s painful and turbulent childhood, which reportedly drove her into a life of prostitution and also helped her related to the two alleged victims in the case.

“Her poor choices may be something you disagree with, but she’s not on trial for being a prostitute, she’s on trial for being a pimp,” Choyce went on. Turning his attention to Putnam, the attorney added, “He’s a man who enjoys the company of women. He’s what we’d call a ‘classic trick.’ He’s like a sugar daddy — he didn’t force them to do anything, he paid for services.”   

Putnam’s own attorney, Daniel Nicholson, declined to give an opening statement.

The first witness to be called to the stand was Teri Bates, a resident of Wood Leaf Circle, which Sacramento Magazine once named one of the region’s most desirable neighborhoods to live in. Testifying about the 2008 accusations that Putnam was running a brothel out of his two-story, eight-room home, Bates recalled she’d observed a number of “scantily dressed” young women — more than six — with stilettos, short skirts and small tops staying at Putnam’s residence, while unknown vehicles were constantly coming and going and sometimes leaving with the women. Three other residents of Wood Leaf Circle gave similar testimony, though under cross-examination from Choyce and Nicholson, only two of the four witnesses could remember seeing Thongsy at Putnam’s house and none could say for certain she had ever lived there.

Roseville Police Sgt. Kelby Newton was eventually called to testify. In 2008, Newton ran a vice and narcotics detail for the department, the unit that arrested Putnam on his original charges of running prostitution from his home.

“We found an ad for in-call massages on Craigslist,” Newton said. “It had verbiage that made us think there was more than massages going on at the location.”

Newton told jurors that on Sept. 11, 2008, he had an undercover officer meet a woman who was staying at Putnam’s house while nearby officers in unmarked cars listened in. The woman allegedly offered the undercover detective oral sex in exchange for cash while Putnam was in another room, prompting the other officers to come in and make a number of arrests. Newton also said they found computers in Putnam’s house that were using a website called MyRedBook.com, considered a more sophisticated website than Craigslist for soliciting sex acts and running escort services.

Two years later, Newton said he was called to the police station by Roseville patrol officer Philip Mancini, who was interviewing a 15-year-old girl named Angelica and her guardian about alleged occurrences at Putnam’s house. Angelica, who is still a minor, is one of the alleged victims in the 2010 case. The other alleged victim was 16 at the time and will be referred to for jurors as Terri. Newton and Mancini both testified that they launched an investigation into how Angelica was linked to Putnam and Thongsy.

During cross-examination, Choyce questioned Newton about how honest Angelica might have been during her police interviews, given that her legal guardian was in the room.

Reflecting on his professional experience, Newton answered, “Sometimes a person is more honest, sometimes less honest — it just depends on the situation.”

The Roseville Press Tribune will run a follow-up story about the trial as soon as more evidence is presented.  

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at scotta@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at ScottA_RsvPT