SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) – A Sarasota man was found guilty of six felonies -- one of which was human trafficking, making him the first person to be convicted of that crime in the county.
Ronald McBride III, 22, of Sarasota began coaching and grooming the victim on how to trade her body for drugs and money last November. The relationship quickly became abusive.
“He became violent. Increasingly violent over the time period that he was essentially pimping this particular victim,” says Brooke Kernan, assistant state attorney of the 17 Judicial Circuit.
The victim told police she had to give all the money she made to McBride because, “He owns me”.
“She was not out there on her own doing this on her own freewill,” says Kernan. “Human trafficking, the statute, requires a level of corrosion.”
Months of abuse came to a head one night when the victim did not return. When McBride found her, he beat her with his gun. When he left, the victim was able to get up and run to Tamiami Trail where she felt McBride was “less likely to shoot her.”
Someone then found her and called 911.
“It was scary and she was extremely brave,” says Elizabeth Melendez Fisher, president and CEO Of Selah Freedom. “This case is crucial in the fight against human trafficking. It sends a strong message to those on that street that 'hey, people do care and we are going to start cracking down.'”
Selah Freedom says Florida is the third in the nation for Human Trafficking. The Suncoast has the second highest rate of the crime in the state.
Selah Freedom, along with the Sarasota Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office, is actively combating those statistics by starting the very first prostitution diversion program in the state.
Fisher says that safety net helps girls feel comfortable coming forward. “(Victims) are able to actually testify now when they never would have. I think it is a landmark case, and it's positioning us as a leader in this moment because this (victim) had the safety of being protected so she could use her voice.”
McBride is expected to be sentenced in November. The maximum sentence he faces is life in prison.