Feds: ‘Dragon Lady’ helped run Victory Inn brothel
Detroit — The sex slaves called her “The Dragon Lady” of Victory Inn, a violent, gun-toting motel manager who federal prosecutors say helped run a drug and sex-trafficking ring.
The accusations from prosecutors against Janette Tawfik emerged Monday during a dramatic federal court hearing that featured surveillance video of life inside a motel where cocaine, heroin and flesh were sold with help from motel staff.
A federal magistrate judge refused to grant bond to Tawfik, 40, of Macomb Township, who faces up to life in prison if convicted of sex trafficking and drug charges.
“She was essentially responsible for managing the human misery that went on at the Victory Inn,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Jawad told U.S. Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub.
Tawfik, wearing handcuffs, ankle chains and an orange-and-white jail uniform, turned to the courtroom gallery after being denied bond, triggering tears from one of her four children.
The hearing came five days after Tawfik was indicted alongside five other alleged members of the drug conspiracy. Federal agents dismantled the alleged conspiracy Jan. 12 at the motel during one of the largest federal raids in Detroit history.
The investigation and raid rescued 14 women and uncovered a sophisticated criminal organization with a hierarchy, lookouts and a body count. The drug and sex-trafficking operation overtook the 42-room motel — leaving two rooms for legitimate customers.
Tawfik is accused of teaming with drug dealers and pimps — including one convicted killer — and providing muscle, brandishing a firearm and “keeping (sex-trafficking victims) in check,” the prosecutor said, citing testimony from several victims.
“This conspiracy has led to many deaths,” Jawad said.
Witnesses told investigators Tawfik “controlled, directed and participated in the prostitution and drug distribution activities,” the prosecutor added.
Tawfik was romantically involved with Darrick “Tone” Bell, 48, a convicted killer and alleged pimp accused of running sex-trafficking at the motel, the prosecutor said.
Agents are hunting for Bell and one other man who has been indicted in the case, Harold Nero.
The government overstated its case against Tawfik, said her lawyer, Michael Friedman. Tawfik carried a “properly registered” gun because the motel is in a dangerous location along Michigan Avenue, east of Wyoming Avenue near the Dearborn border, he said.
Tawfik was not directly involved in any illegal activity, Friedman told the magistrate.
“Ms. Tawfik was a $500-a-week room clerk. That’s all she was,” he said. “The credibility of a number of drug-addicted prostitutes is, at best, questionable.”
She was not dating Bell, her lawyer added.
Prosecutors played video from the motel’s 13 surveillance cameras positioned in hallways. The footage showed alleged drug deals, a pimp beating one woman and, in one clip, a woman tumbling to the floor while overdosing on drugs.
The video showed Tawfik behind the motel’s front desk, allegedly collecting cash from a man and, according to prosecutors, engaging with sex-trafficking victims.
In another clip, Tawfik visits a room and brandishes a gun.
Tawfik worked in tandem with Bell, the prosecutor said.
“Nearly every witness we have spoken to in this case says that Ms. Tawfik and Mr. Bell were in a relationship, that they worked in tandem together, that she delivered orders to others in the conspiracy directly from ‘Tone,’ ” Jawad said. “(And) that she collected cash from the drug dealers and the pimps and delivered that cash to ‘Tone.’ ”
Of course she collected cash, her attorney said.
“I doubt that there are many customers of this motel that are paying with platinum American Express cards,” Friedman said.
Tawfik attended meetings at the motel at which sex-trafficking victims were ordered to “get out and make money,” the prosecutor said.
“She told them, ‘You better get out and make money, my man is not paying for you to sit around,’ ” Jawad said. “The women were afraid of her. They called her ‘The Dragon Lady.’ ”
A probe by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations is also ongoing.
Last year, the Detroit Police Department made 115 runs to the motel, which was the site of two shootings, several aggravated assaults and two homicides linked to motel guests.
The hearing came as federal agents came closer to arresting all six members of the alleged conspiracy.
On Wednesday, agents caught 11-time felon Terry Pruitt, 52, of Detroit. He is accused of participating in the alleged sex-trafficking conspiracy.
During a November incident at the motel, captured on a Detroit Police officer’s body camera, Pruitt said he “sells girls” and can provide “any girl you wanted.”
“Asian, black, white … whatever your choice is,” Pruitt said, “I can make it happen.”
Jawad said: “While he has this conversation, there is a woman overdosing inside the room.”
Agents arrested accused pimp and drug dealer Shelvie “Q” Avery, 50, of Detroit last month after charging two other men, convicted sex offender and eight-time felon Bryant Daugherty, 45, and another felon, Michael Randol, 42. Both men are from Detroit.