A Medford couple has been indicted for allegedly selling sexual encounters between paying strangers and women the pair transported from California to the Rogue Valley and held against their will, police reported.
Dennell Lawrence Smith, 23, of the 1600 block of Hollyhock Drive in Medford, was arrested Monday on charges of compelling prostitution and two counts of promoting prostitution and remains in the Jackson County Jail on $90,000 bail, jail records show. Rebecca Jean Eilenberger, 49, also of the 1600 block of Hollyhock Drive, was cited and released on two counts of promoting prostitution.
"It's more of a form of human trafficking," Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said. "The prostitution sex trade is quite prolific, even here in Medford, unfortunately."
A two-month investigation into the couple's alleged exploits started in September after a woman called a friend to say she was being held against her will in an area hotel. Investigating police believed something suspicious was occurring, but Smith, Eilenberger and the woman told investigators it was a misunderstanding.
Investigators weren't so sure. They left their business cards and asked the woman to call if she ever needed help. Weeks later, she reached out to Detective Jim Williams and told him she had been brought from California to engage in sexual acts for payments that went to Smith.
"For whatever reason, she was able to get away and make that call," Budreau said. "This is hopefully going to be a success story for her."
The investigation continued and another woman reported she also had been brought to Medford for prostitution. Smith and Eilenberger, whom police identified as Smith's girlfriend, allegedly rented rooms in local motels and facilitated transportation for the women.
"He was still the one in control, the mastermind," Budreau said.
A grand jury indicted both Smith and Eilenberger last week and warrants were issued for their arrests. Police arrested them Monday at their home on Hollyhock Drive.
Police officials said mental and physical abuse are used to put fear into women who are used as prostitutes by pimps. In recent years, law enforcement has largely shifted its focus to investigating pimps rather than arresting women working as prostitutes.
"We're learning now that, oftentimes, prostitutes can be the victims," Budreau said. "They are often caught in this world of sex trade."
He added the meaning of the word "pimp" largely has been lost because of its frequent use among youth.
" 'Pimp my ride' or 'That looks pimp.' It's almost gleaned as a good term, but it's clearly not."
Budreau said the case has put a spotlight on similar types of prostitution and human trafficking cases locally.
"I can't give away our tactics, but it certainly is going to be something that's on our radar going forward," Budreau said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.