She met convicted pimp Jonathan Kelly Massoletti of Pocatello through a mutual friend in October 2013.
The 31-year-old Massoletti and his entourage pushed boundaries and took advantage of her good nature.
But the woman, now 20, had no idea that she was actually being groomed by the pimp to be trafficked for sex.
The woman and her mother, who both live in Pocatello, spoke to the Journal on the condition of anonymity because of death threats they have received.
In the beginning, the 20-year-old said, Massoletti gave her gas money in exchange for rides, mostly to and from local hotels, but then he started taking her car without her permission.
“I think Massoletti made a key for my car,” she said.
Her mother said once when she picked her daughter up from work because Massoletti had her car, the 20-year-old burst into tears.
“I asked her if we should call the police and she looked at me and said, ‘Mom I can’t,’” her mother said. “That’s when I knew that something was going on.”
Massoletti repeatedly told the 20-year-old that he would run an ad for her if she wanted to become a prostitute but she said she refused. She noticed that the relationship between Massoletti and an 18-year-old woman from Idaho Falls he also hung out with was not a typical boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.
The 20-year-old said Massoletti would refer to the 18-year-old using vulgar terms and he was verbally abusive toward this other woman.
“I figured out what was going on, but (the 18-year-old) told me she was just an escort. She said that she didn’t have sex,” the 20-year-old said.
Massoletti isolated the 18-year-old from her child and family and she feared for their safety if she didn’t follow his orders, the 20-year-old said.
The whole situation came to a head last January when Massoletti was arrested in Jackson Hole in Teton County, Wyoming, and charged with driving under the influence. He was driving the 20-year-old woman’s car at the time and both she and the 18-year-old who were traveling with him were charged with underage consumption of alcohol.
That’s when the 20-year-old woman’s mother got involved. She contacted authorities in Teton County and told them that she suspected Massoletti was involved in human trafficking. Shortly thereafter the 18-year-old started talking too.
Massoletti was accused of arranging 15 sexual encounters for the 18-year-old woman, who stated that he forced her to have sex for money and then took the money she earned.
Originally charged with one count of human trafficking, Massoletti pleaded no contest to promoting prostitution in Jackson Hole last month as part of a plea agreement.
In accordance with the deal, Massoletti was sentenced to time already served in the Teton County Jail and will be released on Dec. 8 to start three months of unsupervised probation.
A 12- to 14-month prison sentence was suspended, but could be imposed if Massoletti violates the terms of his probation.
The 18-year-old victim who was trafficked in Jackson Hole has returned to her family in Idaho Falls and the mother and daughter who helped bring Massoletti to justice are fearful of what his return to Southeast Idaho will mean for them.
A protective order has been issued in the case forbidding Massoletti from contacting or approaching them.
Rebecca Bender, a human trafficking victim turned advocate, said the Massoletti case is typical.
Bender now trains law enforcement officers on how to spot human traffickers and their victims. She said most young women who find themselves trapped in human trafficking are coerced into prostitution. Rarely are women kidnapped and held against their will, but Bender admitted it does happen.
In Bender’s case, the trafficker was someone that she fell in love with when she was just 18.
She met the man in Eugene, Oregon, and they dated for about six months before she moved to Las Vegas with him.
“I thought he was the man of my dreams,” Bender said.
Bender was a good student, was not a victim of sexual abuse and she was headed to college when she met the man, whose name she declined to release.
Once in Vegas, the relationship took a dark turn.
“He slapped me and took me to an escort service. He told me that he spent a lot of money moving me to Vegas and I owed him,” Bender said. “I thought if I could pay him back, everything would go back to the way it was.”
At first, Bender said she just danced at private parties and her boyfriend was always just outside the door.
“You think he still cares, he wants me to be safe,” she said.
Most traffickers take their women from city to city following sporting events and conferences. Bender was trafficked for six years and she said Boise and Jackson Hole were regular destinations for the traffickers.
Drug use is prevalent among human trafficking victims, Bender said, because they want to numb their pain.
“Usually victims use drugs or alcohol to mask the shame and embarrassment and they end up addicted,” Bender said. “At that point they are often sold to other traffickers because they’re now a problem.”
After two years, Bender was sold to a second trafficker who tattooed her neck. It was the second time a trafficker had marked her as his personal property.
“They call it branding,” Bender said. “The pimps put their name or their initials on you just like branding cattle. Then you’re part of their stall.”
Human traffickers advertise online. Craigslist.org and back
page.com are among the most popular websites for prostitution. Individuals seeking sex for pay know exactly what language to look for in the ads on the sites.
“I just went to Backpage to view any ads posted in Pocatello for selling sex, and there are many on there,” Bender said. “It looks like they use wording like ‘I’m back,’ which leads me to believe they are on a circuit.”
Bender said there are two kinds of human traffickers: Romeo pimps who romance and coerce victims into having sex for money and gorilla pimps who rule their stall with violence and force.
When the FBI raided the Vegas home where Bender and other human trafficking victims lived along with their pimp, she was able to escape the life and return to Oregon to begin the process of healing.
“Victims need support to be able to get away,” Bender said. “Victims of sexual exploitation experience mental trauma. They are not criminals.”
Today, Bender is married and has five children, but she said at times her life as a victim of human trafficking still haunts her.
“It took about seven years before I could feel healthy and whole,” Bender said.
In 2006, Idaho lawmakers passed a bill that enhanced penalties for crimes such as prostitution and slave labor when there is a provable link to human trafficking. Under the new law, human traffickers in Idaho could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.
But prosecutors often drop human trafficking charges in plea bargains, meaning pimps rarely see long prison sentences.
Last month, Idaho State Police arrested Derricka McCloud, 22; Kentraviaen Tuff, 31; Demeiris Fields, 21; and Bradley Roberts, 25, all from Georgia, and charged them with human trafficking after their victim managed to notify police that she was being held against her will.
The group was stopped by state troopers near the Garden of Eden Truck Stop outside of Twin Falls and the victim was rescued. She had suffered minor injuries but was alive.
According to court documents, charges against three of the four suspects in that case were reduced to multiple counts of possession of stolen property.
Jerome County Prosecutor John Horgan did not return phone calls for this story, so it is unclear why the charges were reduced.
Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand said his officers have received some training on how to spot human trafficking and he said he’s aware of the problem in Southeast Idaho.
“I don’t know that we’ve seen an increase, but it is happening,” Marchand said. “Are we monitoring it, yes we are, to the best of our ability.”
The mother and daughter involved in the Massoletti case believe authorities need to do more to not just combat human trafficking but to make sure pimps like Massoletti receive longer prison sentences.
The mother and daughter are unhappy with the light sentence Massoletti received.
The mother said, “My daughter was lucky, the other girl was not so lucky.”
Her 20-year-old daughter agreed, but said she paid a high price for the lesson she learned.
“I lost everything—my car, my job, my scholarship,” she said. “I was on the brink of losing most of my friends too.”
The mother and daughter hope that by telling their story it might save another young woman from being victimized.
“I want everyone to see Massoletti’s face, to know who he is and what he does,” the mother said.