ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- An accused ring leader in a commercial sex trafficking operation is behind bars, but the investigation into the torture and abuse of two St. Louis area women is far from over.
The U.S. Attorney charged 26-year-old Carla Sierra Mathews with three counts of sex trafficking. The federal indictment was handed down on May 9th but remained sealed until Tuesday when Mathews was taken into custody.
The level of torture and threats Mathews allegedly used to make money off of other women's suffering is enough to make you shudder. The U.S. Attorney calls this homegrown crime. The suspect and victims are all from here.
Carla Mathews is accused of unthinkable crimes -- an alleged ring leader in sex trafficking in St. Louis. Known as "Black Barbie," federal investigators say Mathews enslaved two women in their early 20s for the past two and a half years.
"This investigation has been going on for about a year and a half," U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said. "You have a lot of coercion, force and use of drugs to keep the two victims envowed."
Katie Rhoades knows firsthand.
"It's a lot of girls who are already in desperate situations," Rhoades said.
She endured two years in the world of sex trafficking but got out. Now Rhoades helps fellow victims through her non-profit Healing Action Network in St. Louis. She explained how women can get trapped.
"All of my stuff was taken away; my cell phone, any way to get in contact with anybody that I knew," Rhoades said. "I worked out of hotels and clubs - mainly hotels - and we had a $1,000 quota and had to bring home $1,000 per shift."
Rhoades said she and other girls would be punished if they didn't meet their quota. She'd have to work a double shift the next day or face physical abuse.
"I knew violence was an issue and I had watched him be violent toward other people," Rhoades said. "But a girl that's covered in bruises isn't worth much money, so they used other tactics like witnessing."
It was a similar story for Mathews's alleged victims. Federal investigators say Mathews would force her victims to turn tricks in hotels along the interstate, drug them with ecstasy and beat them if they didn't obey. According to federal court documents, "Black Barbie" took a hammer to one victim's toes and burned her with lit cigarettes. Mathews would allegedly steal their food stamps as a way to control the women and threaten to hurt their families if they didn't stay.
Rhoades says this arrest is just the tip of the iceberg of local sex trafficking.
"In the last two months we've had between 20 and 30 referrals for services in the St. Louis area," Rhoades said.
Mathews faces life in prison if convicted of the crimes. She'll face a judge for a detention hearing Wednesday afternoon and hear the formal charges against her on Friday.