A FLORIDA MAN LAUNCHED A NONPROFIT TO SAVE SEX TRAFFICKING VICTIMS. HE WAS ACTUALLY LURING TEEN GIRLS INTO PROSTITUTION, PROSECUTORS SAY.
December 10, 2019
It was a hot mid-August night in Broward County, Fla., when a recovering heroin addict said she first encountered one of William Foster’s recruiters outside a nightclub.
A week later, the young woman met Foster, 48, at a strip club, where she told him about her struggles at her “dysfunctional” home. Foster told her she should pack her belongings and move in with him until she could get back on her feet. That same night, she packed a bag and Foster drove her to one of his three homes in South Florida, telling her he would save her.
Instead, he allegedly forced the woman, identified as “Victim 3,” into sexual servitude as an exotic dancer and prostitute as part of a 15-year enterprise that targeted teenage girls in foster care and vulnerable young women, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
She wasn’t the only woman Foster allegedly enticed with the promise of safety. Prosecutors said in a Nov. 14 criminal complaint that the South Florida man paid to set up a website for a nonprofit called Foster’s Care, Inc., that promised “a comprehensive restoration program for victims of Human Sex Trafficking,” and “protection in partnership with police and FBI.”
In reality, law enforcement officials say Foster, who faces sex trafficking charges, offered women flashy sports cars and luxury designer clothes while withholding the cash they made performing sex work while under his control. Now, two of the women who worked with him also face charges for their role in his operation.
On Monday, two women who worked closely with Foster as his “main girls” — recruiters and money handlers — were also indicted in the alleged sex trafficking scheme. Hanah Chan and Ashleigh Holloway were charged with sex trafficking by fraud, coercion or force, and Chan was also charged with transporting an individual for prostitution, the Palm Beach Post reported. They allegedly handled the money, managed the girls, and helped find recruits to target. Foster is charged with sex trafficking of a minor, conspiracy to sex traffic a minor and transporting with the intent to engage in prostitution.
The criminal complaint alleged Foster used “deceit, manipulation and fear of physical harm to cajole women and minor females to engage in commercial sex.” Federal investigators said Foster allegedly forced women to go on a “lemon juice diet” to lose weight, and required his “girls” to get breast and buttocks implants and undergo nose jobs, liposuction and even rib removals to shrink their already-tiny waists. They had to follow his orders to entice wealthy men into sex and were pressured to make as much money as possible, prosecutors said.
Foster’s attorney, David Howard, recently said his client is innocent. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Monday.
“If there’s proof that [Foster] committed these crimes, I haven’t seen it,” Howard said in November, the Palm Beach Post reported.
In 2014, Foster allegedly started a nonprofit called Foster’s Care, Inc. Although the nonprofit formally dissolved by 2015, investigators argue he was still running it online because a new website advertising the venture popped up this summer, listing Foster’s phone number on its “Contact” page. Foster’s Care purported to offer help for vulnerable young women who had been the victims of sex trafficking.
“That is a lie,” Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Mackenzie Duane said in court last month. “It is a clear effort by the defendant to recruit other victims.”
Less than a month after the young woman met Foster at a strip club, Hurricane Dorian ripped through the Bahamas and barreled toward Florida. While the storm mostly spared the Sunshine State, Foster feared it would affect his bottom line, the federal complaint said. He allegedly sent seven women he controlled to Detroit during the storm, where he told them to make at least $150,000 before returning to South Florida.
While the women slept in a hotel, the newly recruited victim phoned the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Police met her at the Detroit-area hotel and helped her gather her belongings.
Officers found a “handwritten thermometer gauge chart” that appeared to track the women’s earnings in Detroit. They had made nearly $37,000 when police raided the hotel on Sept. 6. Notes instructed the women on how to make more money with notes like “try to negotiate but take offer” and explicit directions regarding sex acts. FBI agents found similar evidence when they searched Foster’s South Florida homes, including boxes containing dozens of condoms and bins filled with exotic dance costumes.
More than two years before the woman phoned for police help at the Michigan hotel, two other victims had offered disturbing accounts of Foster’s sex trafficking operation to FBI agents in 2017.
Both women, who were identified as “Victim 1” and “Victim 2,” told investigators they were teenagers when Foster first recruited them to be exotic dancers and prostitutes. One woman said she worked for Foster between 2007 and 2010. The other said she worked for him for nearly seven years starting in 2004, and eventually worked as one of his “main girls,” handling the cash other women brought in each night.
The victims recounted Foster buying showy cars for the women to drive, including Ferraris, Escalades and a Corvette, while outfitting them in Versace, Fendi and Gucci. He told the women he was investing their earnings into business ventures that would fund early retirements as long as the women stayed in his employ indefinitely. But when the women tried to leave, he refused to give them any money, they said.
The woman who said she worked for Foster for nearly seven years decided she had had enough one day and began packing her bag. Foster allegedly pushed her onto the bed and punched her in the head. Another woman stopped him from hitting her a second time, she told an FBI agent.
Foster allegedly held on to his victims’ birth certificates and Social Security cards. The alleged victims said he closely monitored their online activity, reading their emails, scouring their social media accounts and tracking their search histories. He didn’t allow them to have boyfriends and was on high alert for signs that the women might be trying to leave, they told investigators.
During a release hearing last month, a man who declined to give his name but said he was a friend of Foster’s spoke in his defense. He described him as a friendly pimp who helped the women earn money as prostitutes.
He said one of the alleged victims had a child with Foster, and suggested she went to police as revenge for a personal slight.
“He’s a nice guy, and girls like him,” said the friend from Miami, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Howard disputed his characterization of Foster, saying he was not a pimp for the women.
A U.S. magistrate denied Foster’s release, according to court records, citing concerns he would not show up to court and noting his history of engaging in alleged criminal activity while on pretrial release or probation for other crimes.
“It’s easier for someone who is out to continue to commit these crimes and prey on people who are vulnerable,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart of the Southern District of Florida said last month.
Federal prosecutors have paid special attention to Foster’s alleged attempts to target underage girls in the foster-care system and his tendency to pass his sex trafficking enterprise off as a respite for vulnerable women.
Foster allegedly told one of his victims, “the best places to recruit minors and young women were from group homes, shelters and exotic dance venues, including low-end venues where the young women may have violent pimps.”
FBI Special Agent Kelly Cavey wrote in an affidavit supporting Foster’s arrest that he targeted girls and women who were particularly susceptible to abuse.
“Minors and young women at those locations were vulnerable and in need of help,” she said.
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