The sidelines at the Great Western Forum are a long way from the strip on El Cajon Boulevard where hard-core streetwalkers trudge up and down dirty sidewalks chasing $50 tricks. The big sports palace in Inglewood, where the Los Angeles Lakers play, is full of celebrities on game nights. Jack Nicholson, Magic Johnson, Jay Leno. And then there are girls. Beautiful, glamorous, glitzy, black, white, brown, and all youthful. Jerry Buss, the team's owner, now 65, is always surrounded by the girls. In the NBA, they come with the territory.
Eleven years ago, at the peak of the team's prowess, Buss gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times. "Hidden away in his office, Jerry Buss, millionaire owner of the Lakers, is quietly discussing two of his passions. 'Athletics are great. I can't get enough of them,' he says between sips of a diet cola. But Buss also has a different kind of competition on his mind. The following night, a Beverly Hills discotheque is hosting a contest for the best set of legs in Los Angeles. 'Those girls are going to be dressed in bikinis, T-shirts, you name it,' says the 54-year-old Buss. 'Now that's going to be something.' " Ferried around by a white stretch limo, ensconced in the 42-room Pickfair mansion in Beverly Hills, owner of an estate in Rancho Santa Fe and beach houses in Del Mar and Encinitas, Buss was "to many," wrote the Times, "the quintessential California playboy."
Fast forward to 1998, to sentencing time in a San Diego prostitution case that prosecutors once billed as a slam dunk to make the career of District Attorney Paul Pfingst and that of his young and ambitious deputy prosecutor, Julie Korsmeyer, assigned to handle vice crimes. In an empty courtroom, two young black men, Maurice and Kevin Smith, were sent away to state prison. But their parents, Richard and Etheleen, once charged as key conspirators, went free, all charges dropped.
The story of M.W. -- a strikingly beautiful teenager once featured in an Old Globe Theatre production of August Wilson's Piano Lesson and later led into a life of prostitution on the streets of San Diego and San Francisco's Tenderloin district -- had come to haunt prosecutors.
The one-time child prostitute had allegedly turned up as a member of Buss's circle of associates, living in a luxury apartment he had rented in Woodland Hills. Nobody, certainly not the district attorney, wanted any more publicity. The case that was once intended to be the biggest prostitution conspiracy case in San Diego's history had come unglued.
All that was still more than two years in the future when the county grand jury handed up an indictment, dated November 20, 1996. It charged that the entire Smith family of North Park -- father Richard, mother Etheleen, and their adult sons, Maurice, 26, and Kevin, 31 -- had conspired to "continuously operate a pimping and pandering organization primarily for the management of M.W. and other females under the age of 18 as prostitutes and the recovery of the profits derived from their acts of prostitution."
All four of the Smiths, along with Maurice's 27-year-old girlfriend Pamela Holmes, according to the indictment, "participated in recruiting M.W. when she was 15 years old, concealing her activities and whereabouts from her mother, and sending her to different locations including Nevada, Kentucky, and Texas to engage in prostitution." The indictment also alleged that the defendants recruited and/or attempted to recruit three other teenagers.
One week after the sealed indictment was returned, in the early morning hours of November 27, a contingent of officers from the SDPD vice squad barged into the condominium on 35th Street, just a few blocks north of El Cajon Boulevard, where Richard and Etheleen Smith lived and took the Smith family into custody.
The alleged conspiracy to prostitute M.W. began on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1993, or so the grand jury claimed, when Veronica Wright took her daughters M., then 14, and Myisha, 17, along with their 15-year-old friend to the home of Veronica's old friends Richard and Etheleen Smith. "My mother and I and my friend...and my sister went to Richard and Etheleen's to have dinner and just reunite with them," M. testified to the grand jury in November 1996. "We hadn't seen them in a while. We went there while it was still daylight, probably around 3:00 or 4:00, and we didn't leave until later on that night."
To their neighbors on 35th Street, Richard and Etheleen Smith were just another quiet middle-class couple. According to a pre-sentencing report prepared in March 1998, Richard's son Kevin recalled from his jail cell that his father had worked as a bus mechanic for San Diego Transit for 18 years. Etheleen, Kevin said, was a 16-year employee of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. "My mother was always a beautiful parent," Kevin said. "She was saved as a Christian when I was in the seventh grade. Prior to that, I can't really remember having any real problems. I never saw her do anything disrespectful. She never had any other men in her life. After she got saved, she was committed to God." About his father, Kevin remembered, "I would say that when I was a child he was a good father, but if we broke the rules, he disciplined us firmly. We got our whippings. But we always knew the reason he disciplined us. He was always here for us. My father and I are so much alike. We do have our disagreements from time to time. He wasn't a perfect dad, but he was a good dad."
Veronica Wright would later relate a different version of life with the Smiths, according to a report filed by San Diego police detective Russell Bristol on November 4, 1996. In his report Bristol recounted that 41-year-old Veronica had known Richard and Etheleen for more than 25 years, since the days she was a teenager attending Morse High School and the Smiths lived in a small house on Skyline Drive in Lemon Grove. Veronica described the circumstances of their first meeting to Bristol, in the report that was included in the court record:
"Veronica said she met Richard and Etheleen during the 1970s, she was unsure of the exact year. Richard and Etheleen were married at the time and had two small children, Kevin and Maurice. Veronica and a friend, the friend used the nickname 'Cookie,' went to a liquor store for candy and met Richard and Etheleen in the store. Richard invited the girls to his house for a drink.
"Veronica and Cookie went to Richard and Etheleen's house and were given alcohol and marijuana by Richard," Bristol wrote in his report. "They continued to go to Richard's house, bringing other girls with them. Veronica said they were just trying to be 'hip' and 'happening.' Veronica said the Smiths' house was always very clean and kept up by Etheleen. While visiting the Smith house, Veronica learned Etheleen worked at night as a prostitute for Richard. Veronica became involved in working (making money from acts of prostitution) as a prostitute for Richard as well, and worked for him for several years. She gave him all the money she made from her acts of prostitution. Part of the time she worked as a prostitute, she was still in high school.
"Richard eventually took Etheleen and Veronica out of town to work as prostitutes. She remembered going with them to Dallas and Atlanta to work as a prostitute. Richard and Etheleen brought their two boys with them. Etheleen, Veronica, and other women worked as prostitutes for Richard, giving him all their prostitution money. Veronica said her mother tried to get the police to arrest Richard for pimping Veronica, but a case could never be put together.
"Veronica told us that she and Etheleen were constantly beaten by Richard," Detective Bristol wrote in his report. "He beat them with belts and coat hangers. She said he would have them take their pants and underwear off and lay over the bed where he would beat them. Veronica said Etheleen was always very submissive to Richard's demands but that Richard used to have to chase her around the house because she refused to take her pants down for him.
"On one occasion, Veronica remembered being badly beaten by Richard. He made her work as a prostitute anyway, even though she was hurt. She later got very sick and had to go to a hospital. She could not remember the date or the hospital she went to.
"I asked Veronica if she or Etheleen had ever been arrested for prostitution in any of the cities they worked in. She said they both had been arrested numerous times. She said she had been arrested in San Diego once and several more times in Dallas and Atlanta. She said Richard had been arrested for possession of marijuana in Georgia. Veronica gave me several of the names that she thought she may have been arrested under. The names included the first names of Veronica or Brenda, the last names of Malcolm or Smith, and the nicknames of Coco, Fast, and Black.
"Veronica said she was forced to have sex with Richard. She and Etheleen both shared Richard as a sexual partner. She told us she thought it was gross having sex with Richard and looking back could not believe she had done it." According to Bristol, "Veronica said that when she finally got out of the life, Etheleen was still working as a prostitute."
Veronica made it back to San Diego, where on January 3, 1975, she married Tom Wright, a sometime musician and artist. In a report dated October 30, 1997, Michael Newman, a private investigator working for Richard Smith, quoted Tom Wright as saying he hadn't known of Veronica's past before they were married. The report was made part of the court record. "Wright stated that he was unaware of the depth of the previous relationship that his wife Veronica had had with Richard and Ethel Smith, until after he and Veronica were married. Asked to explain this, Wright stated that he was unaware when he married Veronica that she had been a prostitute, until he found a business card of Veronica's which identified her as 'Golden Girl.' Wright stated that Veronica had explained to him that this was her business card when she was 'freelancing.' Wright stated that Veronica alleged that she had been involved with Richard Smith, 'He was her pimp or something like that,' and Ethel, when the three were younger."
Veronica and Tom Wright were married for four years. According to Detective Bristol's report of his November 1, 1996, interview with Veronica Wright, filed with the court, it was during this time that Veronica became reacquainted with Etheleen Smith. "After many years, Veronica ran into Etheleen in San Diego," wrote Bristol. "Richard was in jail in Atlanta at the time. Veronica felt the meeting was prior to M.'s birth, possibly in 1977. Veronica was married at the time. Etheleen and Veronica talked and Veronica learned that Etheleen had 'found God' and changed her life."
By 1979, Veronica and Tom had divorced and he returned to his home state of Minnesota, but Veronica remained in San Diego. Life with Veronica wasn't easy on her daughters. Their physical beauty was already beginning to coincide with a troubled life of show business, allegedly quick money, and lack of parental supervision. Both M. and Myisha had theatrical talent, but even that turned out to be a mixed blessing. According to a review in the Los Angeles Times, Myisha played "an upfront ghetto girl" in a 1990 Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company production of Someday as part of the fifth annual California Young Playwrights Project.
A year before, in May 1989, sister M., then a ten-year-old student at the O'Farrell School of Creative and Performing Arts, had debuted as Maretha in the Old Globe Theatre's performance of August Wilson's Piano Lesson, a story about an extended black family of the 1920s coming to grips with its heritage of slavery in the form of a stolen piano. Produced by the Yale Repertory Theatre with a cast featuring luminaries Charles S. Dutton and Carl Gordon and directed by Wilson's longtime mentor and associate Lloyd Richards, the play drew such good reviews that it opened in Los Angeles, with M. still in the cast, in January 1990.
The move to L.A. turned out to be a bad one for 11-year-old M.. "Veronica said M.'s problems began in Hollywood at age 11 when she was raped in her own home," Detective Bristol wrote in his November 4, 1996, report. "Veronica said she did not find out about the rape for several years. The rape was revealed as a result of counseling sessions. Veronica ended up placing both M. and Myisha into a center for emotionally problemed children so they could receive help. Veronica did this because she felt she could not control the girls."
M.'s older sister Myisha remembered the girls' life with Veronica differently, according to what Bristol wrote in a January 21, 1998, report of his interview with Myisha, filed with the court. "Myisha said both she and M. had problems with their mother growing up because of the way she raised them," Detective Bristol wrote. "Myisha said their childhood was traumatic; they did not have many personal belongings and never stayed anywhere very long. They did not see much of their father. Neither Myisha nor M. finished school. She felt her mother was unstable, a poor disciplinarian, and although she tried hard, did not do a very good job of raising the girls. She felt her father was also largely at fault for some of the girls' problems because of his leaving them and never talking to them."
Julean Stevens's painting of daughters Myisha and Melissa
By 1990, the girls' father, Tom Wright, who had legally changed his name to Julean Stevens, had settled on the Hawaiian island of Maui with his new wife, Wendy Pal. By then Myisha was 14 and M. was 12. "After leaving the center and living in Hollywood," Bristol wrote in his report of November 4, 1996, "both M. and Miesha [sic] started running away. Veronica sent both girls to live with their father who was living in Hawaii at the time." The experience was not a happy one, according to what Pal later told an investigator for the San Diego Public Defender's office. In an undated report of an interview said in the report to have been conducted December 15, 1997, investigator Ralph Finisterre described Pal's account of M. and Myisha's life in Hawaii.
Melissa and Myisha in earlier years
"After only four or five days, the girls began to act out and get violent." According to Finisterre's account, Pal said that "one day, M. was sewing on the sewing machine and Myisha was watching television. Pal said that Myisha decided to change the channels when M. got upset about this and went after her with a pair of scissors. Myisha then got up and ran into the kitchen and got a 10-inch butcher knife and they went after each other."
According to the Finisterre report, Pal added that "M. was having violent nightmares and would crawl into bed between herself and Julian [sic], and this eventually began to cause marital problems. Pal said that during these episodes she felt as though Myisha and M. did not want her sleeping [in] bed with her own husband."
According to the report, "Pal said that on occasion, she saw the girls jump into bed with their father and begin rubbing themselves on Julian and fondling him in a sexual manner and that although Julian seemed not to be able to handle the situation and was very uncomfortable with it, he was unable to control the girls and make them stop doing what they were doing."
The report said that "Pal remembered on one occasion, when she was attempting to get the girls out of bed with Julian, that she was told by Myisha that she should not sleep in bed with Julian anymore because she might wake up with her throat cut. Pal said that this upset her very much and made her very afraid of the girls. Pal said that after that episode with Myisha, that night M. had a violent nightmare and woke up screaming and wailing around and came into the bedroom. Pal said that she then got up out of bed and left and went and slept on the couch that night."
Once during an argument over Myisha's homework, the investigator said Pal told him, "Miesha ran through the house, breaking out the windows, destroyed the entire contents of the bathroom, and attempted to flush all of her cosmetics and bathroom items down the toilet. Pal said the police came and shortly afterwards, Miesha was removed [from] the house to a foster care facility and never lived with her again after that point."
"Even after Miesha was removed to a foster-care facility," Pal told Finisterre, "M. continued to be unruly, violent, and self-destructive. Pal went on to tell me that M. was totally out of control and that she recalled that M. continued to make long-distance telephone calls, self-infliction of scratches and abrasions on her body, and pulling out her hair and accusing Pal of abusing her." Another time, the investigator said Pal related, "She and Julian observed M. remove a branch from a tree and began beating herself and striking the shrubbery in a violent manner."
The investigator wrote that "Pal said that she recalled that during their stay in her home, the girls frequently and openly told her explicit stories about drug deals and sex occurring in their mom, Veronica's house. Such as the fact that Veronica would be dealing crack in one room and that they would be having sex in another room, and that on occasion, having sex with the same men that their mother did."
Eventually, Pal said, "she received a telephone call from the principal at M.'s school who said that M. was in her office and was accusing her of child beating and she would not be returning to Pal's home." Pal claimed she was later "exonerated" of the child-beating charges. By the middle of 1991, Myisha and M. had returned to Veronica, who later told Detective Bristol that she was by then living in Oklahoma.
"She eventually had both girls flown to Oklahoma, thinking the new area would do them good," Bristol wrote in his November 4, 1996, report. "After arriving in Oklahoma, Veronica placed Miesha in a treatment center. Shortly after that she placed M. in the center as well. M. stayed there for about six months. Veronica thought the six months had made a marked improvement in M.."
But, Bristol reported, not everything went smoothly for M.. "Veronica said she made friends with a female minister in Oklahoma while living there; Veronica called her Sister Ruth. While Veronica lived in Oklahoma, M. started dating Sister Ruth's son. Sister Ruth thought her son and M. may become sexually active together; she did not want her son engaged in that activity." Two private investigators, Michael Newman and Ralph Finisterre, working on behalf of Richard Smith, wrote in a November 3, 1997, report of an interview they'd had on the same date: "Myisha stated that her sister had gotten chlamydia while living with her mother, before meeting the Smiths. Asked who it was who might have given her the chlamydia, Myisha stated that it was 'Sister Ruth's son, John.' " It was less than two years before M.'s encounter with the Smith family on Easter Sunday 1993.
Throughout the tumult of her life and that of her children's, Veronica had remained friendly with Etheleen Smith, with whom she told Bristol she had prostituted herself for Richard Smith so many years before. "I re-established contact with the Smith family; it was in 1978. It was the year that M. was born," Veronica testified to the grand jury. "Our relationship that I had established was based on my spiritual experience with God." Richard, on the other hand, Veronica said, "felt like the God that we served was a blue-eyed devil."
"Veronica and the girls moved back to San Diego in early 1993," according to Detective Bristol's account of an interview he conducted with her November 1, 1996. "Richard Smith was out of custody...and living in San Diego with Etheleen and their children. Veronica said she and her children used to stop by the Smiths' house on holidays to say hello, such times as Christmas and Easter. They usually stayed only long enough to eat and talk. She did not think about the past history between her and the Smiths because she thought they had changed -- at least Etheleen had professed to find God. Occasionally, Richard would bring up the past, by saying such things as, 'Do you remember...so and so? They're dead,' or other such remembrances. Veronica said she had no interest in remembering the past."
Thus were the circumstances, the grand jury charged, under which Veronica Wright on the evening of April 11, 1993, Easter Sunday, delivered her 14-year-old daughter M. into the hands of the family that would soon turn her out on the streets as a teenage prostitute. The first to reach out to M., she later testified to the grand jury, was Pamela Holmes, the live-in girlfriend of Maurice, the younger of the Smith brothers. As they sat down to Easter supper, Pamela asked M. "if I had ever babysat before and if I was interested in babysitting for her kids. I told her I would love to. We exchanged phone numbers, and she also talked to Janell Morelock, my friend, about babysitting."
M.'s sister Myisha later told Detective Bristol, according to his January 21, 1998, report of their January 14, 1998, interview that the Smiths' two sons, Maurice and Kevin, came on to the girls. "Kevin and Maurice acted like they were tough guys," Bristol's report states, "and asked M. and Myisha about their boyfriends. Myisha thought Kevin and Maurice were losers. She said they appeared to have some type of influence over M.. Kevin and Maurice were telling both the girls how pretty they were, and how much money they could make. They talked on the patio area of the Smiths' condo. Myisha said Kevin and Maurice never came right out and said how the girls would make the money, but she understood what they wanted them to do. She said they were running a 'miniature pimping game.' She thought at the time that they were probably joking."
As for Maurice's girlfriend, Pamela Holmes, Myisha told Detective Bristol, "everyone in the family knew Pamela was working as a prostitute. No one seemed to mind. Myisha heard Etheleen say she just did not want Maurice going to jail because of Pamela."
A few days after that Easter supper, M. later testified to the grand jury, Pamela called to set up a baby-sitting date at her house on Via Lisa. It would be the first of many appointments. As they got to know each other, M. said Pamela "talked to me about what she did for a living. First she said she was -- well, she would tell people she was a secretary, but her hours were, like, really weird, you know." Pamela soon changed her story. "She said she had an escort service. She didn't outright say exactly what she did in the beginning. She first said -- that she just went on dates with guys. And she got paid a lot of money for it."
Before no time, M. told the grand jury, Pamela wanted her to try it. "First she would say, that, you know, 'You are really pretty,' and she said that I could make a lot of money and, gosh -- she called me one day and she asked me if I wanted to make a quick $1000 and that kind of blew my mind. I was on the phone like, whoa, okay. She said that there is an Asian man who wanted a young girl who's just really shy and that it was only going to be 15 minutes. She would check on me, and if there was ever any problem, she would come in there. And Maurice was there to deal with everything. Just in case anything got out of hand, Maurice was there. And it was over at her house. And everything that she said basically happened."
M. testified that Pamela sponsored three other sexual encounters between M. and a paying customer, two in hotels and one at Pamela's house. "She knew him and she already set up girls with him before. We talked about it and he came to her house and picked me up, then we went shopping, the guy and I, and then we went to a hotel. I didn't want to see him again, and he offered Pam more money to see me again, and then I saw him again."
Pamela, along with her boyfriend Maurice Smith and his brother Kevin, also provided M. her first experience of working the street, she testified to the grand jury. "The first time, the very first time, I went out on the street was in San Diego. I totally remember that.
"It was Maurice, Kevin, Pam, and her kids, we were all stuffed into her jeep at the time, and I just remember them all drilling me about what I am supposed to do, especially Pam.
"Check the guy's pockets, his legs, kind of frisk him, check the visors on both sides, underneath the car seats, the side pockets of the doors, behind the seat, passenger seat, and his seat...so that if he was a cop and if there was a tape recorder, that I wouldn't get -- if I found it, then just get out of the car. And just in case, either way, always talk with a whisper or do hand signals."
"It was on El Cajon Boulevard," she testified, "right next to a piano sign, a piano building. It was extremely hot. The sun was in my eye. I was scared, and I just -- God, I was just out there in this little white Rayon dress. And I just remember all these guys passing and looking and stopping, and I am sure I looked really pathetic out there, just scared. That is how I felt." Her first experience was anticlimactic. "I ended up getting into the car with somebody, and I just got out, and they were just, like, 'Come on, forget it.' " Soon, M. would also be working Midway Drive near Point Loma, turning her money over to Pam. "I mean, they gave me some money, but -- somehow talked me into a reason why I needed to give them such amount of money, you know; Pam always had a reason for why I need to give her this money."
During their early days together, Pam also took M. to San Francisco. "Pam drove. She had a black Geo Storm at the time. She had lots of different cars throughout this whole thing, lots of different addresses." They proceeded immediately to what prostitutes and their pimps call "the track" in the city's seedy Tenderloin district. "The track is the street, and she was going to show me how to work on the street," M. testified. "Pam had been there before and -- well, mainly she prepped me about the police more than anything else." After about a week, the pair returned to San Diego, and M. briefly returned to her mother, who, M. testified, thought she had been baby-sitting at Pam's house all along.
M. came and went from her mother's house all that spring and into the summer, until July 20, 1993, when, Veronica later testified to the grand jury, she failed to show up after a bus trip she had supposedly taken to Los Angeles to visit her sister Myisha. Veronica called Etheleen Smith.
"I was talking on the phone to Mrs. Smith, Etheleen, and, you know, I noticed the time, and I told her that I had this real strange feeling inside my stomach and I felt really sick, because M. hadn't returned. And she said, 'Well, let's pray, and we will pray.' "
In the days that followed, Veronica said she frantically called everyone she could think of in an attempt to find M.. "I had contacted the missing children's organization. I had talked to several private investigators. I wrote a letter to Bill Clinton. I spoke with often, very often, the La Mesa Police Department. I harassed and harangued Ethel and Richard.
"I just felt, like, you know, in my heart, that they knew something, and they wouldn't give me any information." But each time she asked about her daughter, Veronica said, Etheleen rebuffed her. "She said, 'I promise you, Veronica, if I hear anything, I will let you know.' She said, 'As a matter of fact, I am fasting and praying. I have the sisters and the saints in church, they are fasting and praying with me. They are praying for you to find your daughter.' "
Veronica testified that Richard told her, " 'Girl, if I know where that girl is, I will let you know.' That is what he said, 'We absolutely don't know anything.' " Eventually, Veronica said, Richard and Etheleen both "told me to stop calling and that -- they threatened my life, and they told me that I was crazy when they were trying to drive me crazy."
In a recent interview, Richard Smith denied that he or his wife had played any role in M.'s disappearance or that they had conspired to hide M. from Veronica. "When they go and start doing things and start running away from home -- this was happening even before she came around us. I was working, my wife worked, you know, we can't take all our time looking for your daughter."
Richard also said that he had no control over his sons, who were adults during the alleged conspiracy. "If you know kids or ever had any, they're bad enough as teenagers. Now how can you tell a grown man what to do? They weren't even living in this city. Now I agree that my son was messing with a young lady that was underage, but that didn't warrant no 17 years [in prison] for no stuff like that."
As for Veronica's grand jury testimony that Richard had once acted as a pimp for both her and his wife Etheleen, he said: "She wasn't mistaken, she was lying. I've done things in my past, but it had nothing to do with no pimping. Veronica was a friend of mine, but that was back in the hippie days. We had fun and stuff, but it wasn't like that, no. In fact, she even went and met my family in Georgia. She and my wife was very, very good friends. That's why their relationship kept going on and on, because they was very good friends.
"I used to hustle, do a little stuff, but other than that, that didn't have nothing to do with no alleged pimping."
Myisha Wright later told Detective Bristol, according to his report of January 21, 1998, that she tried to help Veronica find M.. "She went to Etheleen's house," according to the police report. "She found out then that M. was prostituting. M. had new clothes, money, and other things. Myisha called Pamela on the phone from the Smiths' condo and told her she was going to 'kick her ass.' They got into a heated argument on the phone. Pamela told Myisha that she [Pamela] had been a prostitute since she was 11 years old and just because her sister, M., was only 14 did not mean she could not 'ho.' Myisha said Richard was at the house at the same time she made the call."
While her distraught mother scoured the city for her, M. was living with Pamela and her boyfriend Maurice Smith in a ramshackle house on Bateman Avenue in Otay Mesa. In the evenings, M. testified, Maurice would take Pam out to work "the track" along Midway and Rosecrans in San Diego, a popular neighborhood for streetwalkers, or they would go to the familiar hooker haunts along El Cajon Boulevard. Sometimes M. would accompany Maurice and Pam, sometimes she would remain at home on Bateman Avenue to baby-sit Pam's kids.
One night, M. testified to the grand jury, "Pam got a call." It was Maurice's older brother, Kevin Smith, then 28, who had just been released from a drug-rehab center and needed a lift. When Pam returned, Kevin was with her. "And when he came back," M. said, "I was, like, 'What's up?' He was, you know -- he was Kevin, and all this time they were like friends of the family." From that day on, M. said, he was to figure large in her life.
Kevin Smith was born in Columbus, Georgia, and moved with his parents to San Diego when he was 11. Many years later he told a court psychologist he had been an "A-plus" student in elementary school. After that, he said, he joined a street gang. He called himself "Kaos" and had the name tattooed on his arm. He was busted repeatedly and did hard jail time. "As a young gang member, my name rang throughout San Diego. Anything I set my mind to, I did to the fullest. I succumbed to my environment -- drugs, gambling, weed, and violence. I gave into it. I fell into it. I remember as a boy being fascinated by the guy with a nice car and a beautiful girl. But do you really know what you want when you are a kid? I don't know. That's the way I grew up. I was a full-fledged gang member between the ages of 15 and 22. I held menial jobs. But at 22 I wanted to move away from the gang. I had responsibilities. I wanted to own a home and have a nice woman in my life."
Almost as soon as he arrived at Pam and Maurice's house from drug rehab, Kevin set his sights on the 15-year-old M.. "He was trying to coerce me to get with him," M. testified, "by saying things about Pam. Have you ever heard the expression dropping salt on somebody? It's so easy. He was trying to talk down about Pam so I could get with him. I still thought he was like a friend of the family, and maybe, you know, he was only trying to help me."
Kevin also employed other means of persuasion. He took M. out on dates to local dance clubs. "And one night after the club, we went to some really beautiful part of San Diego by the beach, and he was just talking to me, still, like, trying to coerce me to get with him." M. testified, "One night, after the club," she had sex with Kevin, "and I just know I had to be intoxicated."
Kevin convinced her to drop out of Monte Vista High. "One of Kevin's favorite things to say was I shouldn't worry about going to school, because you go to school to get a good education to go to college so that you can get a good job so you can make good money, but if you could make good money now, what is the point in going to school?"
In August 1993, about a month after she moved in with Pam, M. said, her mother Veronica, accompanied by Etheleen Smith, suddenly showed up at Pam and Maurice's Bateman Avenue house. It turned out that Etheleen had finally given in to Veronica's beseechments and led her to her daughter. "Basically," M. testified, "I was over at Pam's house, and she came. Maurice was there, Pam's kids were there. Pam was there, and my mother and Etheleen Smith came with the police and took me to API -- Alvarado Parkway Institute.
"I was there for about two weeks.... At the end of two weeks, my mother came and picked me up." As soon as she got home, M. called Pam's house, where Kevin answered the phone and convinced her to run away again. He came by to pick her up, along with her friend, a girl named Karen Lane. "She told me that she wanted to go to Texas to live with her father. That is where she was going. But she didn't have the plane ticket. And her and her mother weren't getting along either. So she was just going to live with her father in Texas. And I was, like, 'Hey...come with me, I am going.' "
Kevin took the girls to what M. called a "sleaze motel," where they remained two days, watching television. "Kevin told us to stay there, because he was, like, arranging things...getting the plane tickets." Finally Kevin came back with the tickets and M. boarded a flight for Kentucky. "The massage parlor bought the plane ticket and once I got there I'd work it off." M. testified she spent two months at the brothel.
"Basically, the customers come in, and you, like, line up and they say -- they pick whatever girl. And then you take them to this, like, wash area and you scrub them down and then give them a half-hour massage. Well, once you get to the room, after you scrub them down, you ask them if they want an hour massage or a half-hour massage, and then you give them a massage. And then while you are giving them a massage, I was instructed that you try to, like, put your boobs really close to them to see if they would touch it, and if they did, they weren't a cop."
Sex, M. testified, "was what everybody came there for." Each week, she said she made about $6000 and kept $3000 after giving the other half to the madam who ran the house. She wired all of the money back to San Diego. "I sent it to Kevin. First, it was for Pam, and then it was for Kevin." M. testified that Pam had promised to keep her money safe in San Diego and "help me get an apartment so I could live on my own." But then Kevin, who M. said was by then living at his parents' condo in North Park, phoned and told her, " 'No, she is not saving your money. She is lying to you. Send me your money and I am going to put it in a safety deposit for you. When you come back, everything will be okay for you.' "
After M. had spent about a month at the Kentucky brothel, Pam called to tell her about a massage parlor just off a busy freeway outside of Houston by the name of Studio 8806. "Pam told me there was more money to be made in Texas," M. testified. She boarded a plane headed west. M. had been at the Houston brothel several weeks when Pam called again to say that Kevin was spending all the money she was sending him for safekeeping. "So I didn't send them any money. I was just, you know, really confused. I didn't know what was going on. And so I just kept it."
With the flow of money from M. cut off, Pam was once again on the phone to the Houston bordello. "Pam called Mama-san, and that was, like, I guess, the madam, and told her that I was only 15 years old and my mom is looking for me, and they are going to be in really big trouble if they don't get me out of there." M. was summarily fired.
On the street and not knowing where else to turn, she went to Oklahoma to see Sister Ruth, her mother's spiritual advisor of years past. It was late 1993 when the phone rang at the La Mesa house of M.'s mother Veronica, who hadn't heard anything about her daughter in months. "Sister Ruth called Veronica and told her M. was there visiting her," Detective Bristol of the San Diego police vice squad wrote in his report of November 4, 1996. "Sister Ruth told Veronica she had a dream about M. taking off her clothes to earn money. She also told Veronica that when she and M. went shopping, M. had lots of money, thousands of dollars. She said M. always tried to buy things for her." Bristol's report does not record whether M. talked to Veronica.
From Sister Ruth's, M. returned to San Diego. She was greeted at Lindbergh Field not by her mother, but by Maurice Smith and Pam Holmes. M. complained of stomach pains, so Maurice and Pam took her to Paradise Valley Hospital, where they dropped her off and left. M. was sitting in the waiting room when her mother Veronica suddenly arrived. "Veronica was called by a friend who was at the hospital," Bristol wrote in his November 4, 1996, report. "The friend told Veronica she had seen M. in the hospital waiting room. Veronica went to the hospital and found M.. Veronica said M. was smoking a cigarette and she slapped it out of M.'s mouth."
"She was really frantic," M. later testified of her mother, "and I could tell that she was nervous, scared, and excited. At first, I tried to calm my mom down. I didn't really know what to do. But while I was there, I tried to calm my mother down. And then, I remember we just -- we started to get into an argument, and I just ran away. I didn't even see the doctor, I just ran down the street and around the corner."
After escaping from Veronica, M. hailed a cab and returned to Pam and Maurice, who by then were living in a small house on a street she remembered being just off El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. "I told them what happened," M. said, "that my mother had come to the hospital. And from there they took me to the Travel Time Motel on El Cajon Boulevard. They took me there, I am sure, because, you know, they thought that my mother would come to their house, although my mom didn't know where they lived."
Once at the motel, M. called Etheleen Smith, because, M. later testified, she considered Etheleen "a mother figure." "I told her I was just frustrated and confused and scared and I didn't know what to do anymore, and she talked to me about getting emancipated, to get away from my mom." M. said Etheleen added that " 'If you are going to do that, which is prostituting, just try to get your GED [high school graduate equivalency certificate] as well.' " Then Etheleen said, " 'Hold on, someone wants to speak to you.' " It was her son Kevin.
"And Kevin talked to me for a little while, and then he came and picked me up." M. said Kevin took her back to the spot on the beach they had been to months before, which she described as "beautiful," and during a long talk he apologized for stealing her earnings. Eventually, they ended up at the Easy 8 Motel on Hotel Circle. "I wasn't thinking of myself as a person anymore. I actually started to think of myself as just a piece of meat or just a money maker, like a machine or something."
At the hotel they met another couple, another pimp and his prostitute. "Travis Stocking and his girl at the time," M. said, "her name was 'Stuff.' " That night Stuff said she was going to show M. how to work "the track" along Midway Drive near the San Diego Sports Arena. "She just said, 'Stay by me.' She told me I was going to attract the guys, and she was going to get the money, and I just followed along with her. She let me borrow some of her clothes and shoes. And she was an older lady. They called her a veteran, a veteran whore.
"And we went out there, and it was cold.... It even started to drizzle a little bit, rain. While we were out there, a guy pulled over in a truck." Stuff signaled M.. "Basically, she just said -- she was just, like, 'Watch this,' and I didn't even know what was going on, but we were in the truck, and she would just be really close to the guy and rub on him and talk dirty to him. And then, like, five, ten minutes later, she was, like, 'Oh, wait, pull over.' And she came up with some excuse for us to get out of the car. And we got out of the car, and she was running, so I just ran after her. And she had went in his wallet in his pocket and took out his money, put his wallet back in his pocket.... And she got a lot of money out of him, and she gave me, like, $100."
M. testified that she and Stuff continued to work Midway together for another night, robbing hapless johns, until Kevin announced it was time for him and M. to drive to San Francisco. Kevin told her that "my mom wouldn't know where I was, and there was a place for me to make money." They arrived at the Holiday Lodge near the Tenderloin around the end of November 1993.
In San Francisco, M. testified, she "worked like a dog...worked on the track, in the cold, in the high heels, on hills that were -- you know, it was San Francisco, so you can remember that commercial, Rice-a-Roni. It was those kinds of hills. It was crazy.... Every day, seven days a week. I had corns on my toes that were just huge and blisters all on my feet." Kevin's demands for money, she said, "started gradually. The first time he was, like, 'Make 500,' and the second night he was, like, 'Make 600,' and on and on until 1000." If she didn't earn that much, she said, he would tell her, " 'Don't come in until you make it.' " Kevin also set the prices. "$50 for a blow job and $100 for half and half.... Start off with a blow job and then have sex with them.... That was, like, ten men a day, like, five to ten men a day."
It went on for almost a year, she said. "I worked and slept and sometimes didn't even want to eat because I was too tired." As for the money she was making, $25,000 a month, "I gave it all to Kevin. He explained to me...like, these pimp-and-whore rules. He didn't want to say...that he was a pimp in the beginning, because, you know, I was 15. I didn't want to say I was with a pimp. He was just managing my money for me."
She said they were almost always on the move. "First we were at the Holiday Lodge, and then we were at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in San Francisco, and then we moved to a town right outside of San Francisco in Millbrae, El Rancho Inn, and then we got an apartment a little further outside of Millbrae." At that point in her testimony she paused and said, "And I just want to add one thing, that now at this point, I don't think of myself as anything at all, period, but a piece of meat, and I have just...just no value of myself whatsoever, or of sex. I mean, to this day."
There were also beatings from Kevin, she said. "The very first time was at the Cathedral Hill Hotel in the bathroom. He got mad at me for some reason, and he came in there and just -- just knocked me upside my head. And then as I was walking out of the bathroom, he slapped me, and I just flew on the bed. I didn't weigh that much anyway to begin with, but it was a pretty powerful slap, and then he started to like, rape me."
Still, M. kept a few souvenirs of her ordeal. "There was this guy, we call him the picture man, and he would come out, and his name was Raymond, and take pictures. He would just go out all the time. I guess in San Francisco, I guess that is just the thing for lots of girls.... He sold them for, like, $2 each." She kept about 30. One of the photos showed Kevin posing proudly beside a brand-new white Mustang with snazzy gold wheel rims. Kevin had bought the car with a down payment of $10,000 of her earnings, M. testified, and "his parents' signature. I guess he needed a cosigner." She added, "He praised that car. He worshipped that car. And there was no way he would ever let me behind the wheel of it."
Kevin's parents, Richard and Etheleen, would frequently call long distance from San Diego, she said. "We spoke to each other all the time...three or four times a week. During the whole time they knew what I was doing. They knew where I was. And along with Kevin, [they were] downing my mother, telling me what a bad mother she is, she doesn't love me, she won't accept me because she knew what I was doing. I felt my family were going to disown me, and Etheleen and Richard confirmed that every time we talked."
M. told the grand jury she often wired money back home to Richard and Etheleen. She said she used a false identity because Richard and Etheleen "didn't want to get into trouble." Meanwhile, M.'s mother Veronica continued to call Etheleen. M.'s sister Myisha later told Detective Bristol of one of these phone calls.
"Myisha said she was at her mother's house one day when she heard her mother crying and screaming in her room, 'Why? Why won't you tell me where M. is?' Myisha picked up a different phone and heard Etheleen say, 'Your daughter's a prostitute just like you were, Veronica,' and 'I can't help it if she wanted to go with Kevin and Maurice. At least she's keepin' it in the family.' "
According to Myisha, the Wright family went to San Francisco to look for M.. "Myisha said she, her older sister (Monifa), and her mother went to hotels and the 'track' (the areas prostitutes work) looking for M.. She said a lot of the prostitutes they talked to knew Kevin, Maurice, Pam, and M.," Bristol wrote. "Some of the prostitutes gave them bits of information about M.'s whereabouts." But none of the leads panned out.
It was during her time in the Tenderloin that Kevin decided that M. should get a tattoo of his gang name, Kaos, over her left breast. "When I first got there, after, like, the first week of Kevin seeing every other girl on the track had their pimp's name over their left breast, then he thought it would be a good idea for me to get one too.... My nickname was Babydoll and his was Kaos."
In May 1994, Kevin was picked up by police and thrown into the San Francisco County Jail, where he would languish for months. M. said she paid for an airline ticket so that his father Richard could rush to the city to watch over Kevin's Mustang, "and make sure that I was going to work okay." Richard remained in San Francisco "for a few days," she testified, "like five or four. And he made sure I got to work all the time." He also "called his wife to let -- you know, just to talk to his wife. And he made nasty food."
Richard also made arrangements to remove the expensive gold rims from the wheels of his son's white Mustang, M. said. "It was some kind of rim, gold rim, and he didn't want to leave them on while he wasn't there, so we went to San Jose to have them taken off." During his time in the city, M. added, Richard also "drove the Mustang to drop me off on the track every night and to go to the grocery store."
A few days after Richard returned to San Diego, leaving her behind in the Tenderloin, M. turned 16. "On my birthday," she said, "I was in the hospital miscarrying his baby, Kevin's. That was torture."
Richard later denied M.'s testimony that he had been with her in San Francisco and taken proceeds from her prostitution. "Oh, they know that's a lie. I was in Georgia visiting my aunt. We had plane tickets to prove it and everything. That's another lie went to the grand jury. Not true, and we got all the evidence to prove it. The lady at the plane station remembered me because of my luggage, she said, you know, that this is nice luggage and my aunt had given it to me."
Though Kevin remained behind bars, M. continued to work the track. "All the other pimps, they were starting to hassle me and -- you know, just hassle me to try to get me to choose them to be -- to be my pimp." So Kevin used the jailhouse phone to "call his friend to come up and watch me, to pose as my pimp."
In September 1994, M. testified, she finally returned to San Diego, where she spent several months working the streets before heading to Nevada to work at the Chicken Ranch, a legal brothel about 50 miles north of Las Vegas on a desolate stretch of highway. According to Detective Bristol's January 21, 1998, account of his interview with Myisha, while M. was at the brothel, she had seen Myisha as a dancer in a music video on MTV and decided it was time to phone home.
"While I was there," M. told the grand jury, "I started to call my grandmother. I talked to her for a little while and got my sister's number. I was still afraid of my mother because I was still 16 and, you know, I still thought that my sister and my family, they were going to disown me, and they didn't love me and all of that."
After spending New Year's Eve at the Chicken Ranch, M. flew back to San Diego and was met at the airport by her mother on January 10, 1995. Her two-year odyssey as a teenage hooker had come to an end, but the next chapter of her troubled life was just beginning. "My mother called Detective Bristol right off to tell him that I came back home and I was safe and so that now we can continue to put these people away to jail," she testified to the grand jury. During a meeting between Bristol and M. that April, the detective hatched a plan to set up Richard Smith.
An undercover policewoman would pose as a hooker and say she was M.'s friend. The policewoman and M. would then set up a meeting with Richard Smith. M. was to call Richard and tell him "that I missed Kevin and want to get with him. And the undercover that went with me -- this is really cool -- she was a friend of mine, and she needed to get with a pimp."
Besides the undercover sting, Bristol also arranged for M. to send a letter to Kevin Smith, still behind bars in San Francisco. It began, "Hey you, what's up? I know not too much because your [sic] in jail. I just want to write you to let you know that I still love you, there isn't a day that goes by that you're not on my mind.... Baby, I want to be back with you up in Frisco. Come put money on your books. I know I could make it work. I could work the track in Frisco and work the Chicken Ranch. I want to make you a rich man."
Kevin fell right into Bristol's trap, writing back to M. within days. "Baby Doll," he began, "First of all I would like to take time out to thank God for your health and strengh [sic]. Life in the streets can be very cruel to a person sometimes, especially if they have a good heart like yours.
"So you say that life has been shitty for you since you've been out of my life? I'm not going to tell you that I told you so, because its self-explanitory [sic] now.... Judging from your letter, you seemed to have learned from your mistakes, and you also sounded very sincere about your apology.... I still do love you with all of my heart.... Of course, I will be expecting a nice big choosin' fee from you and to be given to me as soon as possible. I want you to have a nice piece of cash for Daddy to come home to.
"Working frisco [sic] track is dangerous for you right now because their [sic] is a rumor that you are a renegade. So don't come up here working the track because I don't want any harm to come to you. If you come up here to see me, that will be cool." He added two postscripts: "PS: My tattoo and only my tattoo had better still be on your body (chest)" and "PSS: Contact paps as soon as you get this letter."
In mid-November 1996, the county grand jury convened to hear the D.A.'s case against Kevin, his brother Maurice, their parents Richard and Etheleen, and Maurice's live-in girlfriend Pamela Holmes. It took less than a week for the grand jury to return a 16-page, three-count indictment against the five, alleging a total of 156 overt acts that the jury said showed a conspiracy among the Smith family and Pamela Holmes for the purpose of pimping, pandering, and the child-abduction of M.W. and three other underage high school girls who allegedly had worked as prostitutes for the Smiths.
With the indictment, yet another turbulent act of M.'s life had drawn to a close. Yet another was beginning. A week after the indictment, San Diego police were pounding down the doors of the Smith residence on 35th Street, and all five defendants were shortly behind bars. Now it was the defense lawyers' turn. In an attempt to discredit the stories told by M. and her mother Veronica, defense investigators would uncover several tantalizing, bizarre twists to the case.
According to a September 9, 1997, declaration of Maurice Smith's attorney Cynthia Kay Bolden, Maurice felt that SDPD vice detective Russell Bristol was out to get him. "On several occasions, Maurice's truck was stolen, which incidents were immediately followed by calls or in-person contacts by Detective Bristol, mocking, 'How's your truck?' " Maurice's lawyer claimed. The source of the animosity was Bristol's alleged attraction to Maurice's live-in girlfriend, Pamela Holmes. "On one of many occasions," the attorney wrote, "Detective Bristol was very vulgar and insulting, telling Maurice, 'I like her tits. Let me suck them.' To which Maurice responded, 'Hell, no.' Detective Bristol replied, 'Well, just let me touch them then; she lets other guys do it for money. I'll pay.'
"In another instance," Bolden continued, "Detective Bristol began to threaten, harass, and follow Timothy Jones, Pamela's brother, and 'Fred,' the next-door neighbor. Mr. Jones refused to grant Detective Bristol entry on one of his numerous random, warrantless efforts to search the Holmes-Smith residence. As a result of the same, Detective Bristol began to be a nuisance to Holmes and Smith, particularly 'Fred,' who initially gently and finally adamantly resisted Detective Bristol's 'inquiries' and added, 'Why don't you leave these people alone?' On one...occasion Detective Bristol instigated a search contending Maurice was a homicide suspect, risk-to-flee, and probably had the murder weapon in his house. Not surprisingly, the search came up empty handed."
Both the deputy district attorney and Bristol denied Maurice's charges against Bristol, calling them a figment of his imagination, but there was more to come. Throughout 1997, as they prepared for a scheduled 1998 trial, investigators for the defense fanned out to gather background on M. and her mother Veronica. They located Veronica's ex-husband and M.'s father, Julean Stevens, in a house in the Valley Village district of the San Fernando Valley. By early 1998, he was living with M.'s sister, Myisha, and her young son Paul. They also talked to Stevens's ex-wife Wendy Pal. Both regaled investigators with lurid stories of M. and Myisha's childhood experiences and what the sisters had been up to since M. had left her life of prostitution and reunited with Veronica.
According to reports brought back by investigators and deposited in the court files, although Julean Stevens had known that M. had been missing, he had done nothing to try to find her, other than to use psychic means. "I didn't do anything to try and find M. when she ran away," Julean told San Diego police detective Lynn Rydalch, according to a report she filed on January 21, 1998. "I called a psychic and threw the [tarot] cards. Later on I heard she was in San Francisco from Myisha.
"I next saw M. on August 2, 1995, when I came back from Hawaii," Julean told Detective Rydalch, according to Rydalch's report. During that summer of 1995, Julean said, the family tried to reunite in Los Angeles. "We all lived together, Myisha, M., and (half-sister) Monifa. It didn't work out. There was too much conflict. Me, Myisha, and little Paul (Myisha's son) moved to the Valley. M. moved out with a boyfriend, then threw him out. Veronica moved to Marina Del Ray [sic]."
The relationship between Julean and M. got progressively worse. "Me and M. tried to put together a CD," Rydalch quoted Julean as recalling. "She went and got saved. She then only wanted to do gospel music. I wasn't into it. I gave her a lot of original art work. I didn't give, she took, a book of mine. It was a reference to my whole life. She took that. It had a lot of my metaphysical charts. She destroyed all of it because she thought it was demon possession. She has no remorse."
Julean told Rydalch, according to her January 21, 1998, report, that the house in Valley Village he was living in with his daughter Myisha was in the name of Myisha's boyfriend, who Julean said was a producer. "Myisha works as a stripper. Her boyfriend is going to start paying all of her bills soon." According to Newman's investigator's report dated October 30, 1997, Julean, a.k.a. Tom Wright, "stated that Myisha makes her living currently by providing 'adult entertainment.' He reiterated that Myisha — at the time this interview was being conducted at his residence -- Myisha was in New York working at a 'strip joint,' which Wright said has the reputation of being one of the most elite of such clubs in New York."
In his investigator's report dated January 21, 1998, Detective Bristol confirmed that Myisha and M. had been stripping together after M.'s alleged ordeal under the Smiths. "Myisha said she and M. have stripped together in clubs. Myisha has since quit dancing.... She said they did dance in El Paso for two weeks because M. gave away all their money to the church. She said the actual time they danced was in May of 1995...."
But the biggest bombshell was still waiting to explode. When it did go off, it changed the entire complexion of the case, a change that would lead to the dismissals of the indictment against Richard and Etheleen Smith. It happened that M.W., according to investigators for both San Diego police and attorneys for the Smiths, had come to know Jerry Buss, owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and one of the richest and most influential men in professional sports.
Buss, a longtime San Diego County resident, was a friend and backer of San Diego mayor Susan Golding, giving her ill-fated 1998 campaign for U.S. Senate $2000. Buss was also talked about as a potential dealmaker for the City of San Diego's long-held dream of building a downtown arena for professional basketball. His connection to one of the city's biggest teenage prostitution conspiracy cases, sources say, sent chills through prosecutors.
In a report dated October 28, 1997, investigators Ralph Finisterre and Michael Newman, retained by the county's office of public defenders on behalf of Richard Smith, first described Julean Stevens's version of his daughter's relationship with Buss.
Buss residence at 6473 Lago Lindo
"Mr. Wright stated that he is aware that his daughter is being maintained by Gary [sic] Buss, the owner of the L.A. Lakers sport team," the investigators reported. "Mr. Wright stated that Buss is a 'Sugar Daddy' to/for his daughter, who supports her. Additionally, per Mr. Wright, his daughter is currently involved in another, similar relationship with a man who also provides her maintenance.
Buss residence at 2235 Encinitas Blvd.
"Mr. Wright then stated that his daughter and her mother are involved in manipulating Mr. Buss for their standard of living and stated that 'they are doing the same thing to another guy, a Jerry Persigi, who is a writer.' Wright stated that his daughter will 'talk good about them (the men), then talk bad about them.' Wright stated that his daughter has acknowledged on occasion that she is using these men, for their money and contacts. Wright described Buss as someone who 'likes to have pretty women around him.' Wright stated that he does not know whether his daughter is providing sexual favors to Buss, further stating that that might not be the case owing to the fact that his daughter has 'said that he (Buss) can't get it up (can't function sexually).' "
Buss residence at 14288 Halfmoon Bay
Then the investigators added, "Per Wright, his daughter has told him that Buss 'likes to be abused,' and M. is willing to provide that abuse.... Wright then stated that M. was given $10,000 from Buss on her recent birthday.
Buss residence at 18279 Via de Sueno
"Wright is of the belief that M. is Veronica's meal ticket, particularly now that she is in with extremely wealthy men. M.'s current involvement with Buss, Persigi, and others allows Veronica access to their world. Mr. Wright stated that M. had been involved with Buss 'for about two years.' Per Wright, M. is sported about by Buss at events. 'He'll send a limousine for them, and he'll take them to parties and racing and that kind of thing.'"
Buss residence at 1370 Rue de Chateau
"I asked Myisha if she introduced M. to Jerry Buss," SDPD detective Bristol wrote in a report dated January 21, 1998. "Myisha said she, M., and some friends went to a Laker game and met Buss at a game. Buss invited them to his place. They played pool and had fun. She said Buss takes care of many woman [sic] who need help, getting them through school, etc. I asked her what the woman had to give Buss in return. She said he was impotent and therefore was not having sex with them. She thought he was doing it to help out the women, make himself feel good, and be seen with pretty women. Myisha said both she and M. had gotten assistance from Buss. Buss no longer helped them because Veronica got greedy. M. and Veronica began lying to Buss. Veronica talked M. into giving a large sum of money to the church, money Buss had given M. for her bills."
Buss residence at 4401 Manchester
According to Newman and Finisterre's report dated November 3, 1997, "Myisha recalled that she had sat her sister down and 'I told my sister that if she was going to be a whore, then do it the right way. I introduced her to Buss. Buss has 30 women and that man pays all the bills.' "
Defense investigators also discovered a report by a Los Angeles security guard dated February 21, 1997, purporting to document a disturbance that occurred February 20, 1997, on the grounds of a Woodland Hills condominium leased to Jerry Buss, where M. was then living. The report was made part of the court file. "I observed a woman (later identified as Veronica Wright) walking in the alley," wrote the guard, "who looked at me and stated, 'Are you security?' I stated, 'Yes' and asked her if she was from [condo unit] A.P. 20. Ms. Wright said, 'I live there and my daughter won't let me in. She's trippin'!' " The guard said Veronica tried to storm the front door of the condo, and he was forced to arrest her. "Ms. Wright became combative, and I then had to use force against her to restrain her from injuring me. Ms. Wright was in the seated position, and I overpowered her by sitting on her legs and forcing her hands into the cuffs."
The next night, the manager of the condominium complex got a call, according to notes filed in the court case. "M.W. called 2/21/97 to tell me that Jerry Buss is taking care of everything. The woman last night is not her 'mother,' that she was a house guest taking care of the place and that when M. came home last night, the woman would not leave, and the whole thing went down.... I asked her if they pressed charges. She said that Jerry is not 'that kind of a person' and doesn't want to cause anyone any problems."
Four days later, on February 25, the manager made another note: "Tony from Jerry's office called. She said she will call Veronica to find out if she is really coming to get her stuff and that she will send one of Jerry's guys to make sure that M. and Veronica do not get into an altercation." By that July, millionaire Buss owed $1530 rent on the condo and was served with an eviction notice, according to copies of records included in the court file.
February 3, 1998, was the scheduled date for the trial to begin. Present in the court were Richard and Etheleen Smith. Prosecutor Julie Korsmeyer rose. "People move to dismiss the entire indictment and court grants," noted a court stenographer. After spending months behind bars awaiting trial, Richard and Etheleen were free.
Their sons, Kevin and Maurice, along with Maurice's girlfriend, Pamela Holmes, then pleaded guilty to charges much lesser than those originally charged in the grand jury's indictment. All three returned to court on March 26 for sentencing.
Kevin, M.'s pimp and an ex-felon, drew the harshest sentence: 17 years in state prison, enhanced due to his prior felony conviction. Aggravating circumstances included the fact that "defendant took advantage of position of trust; crime was sophisticated and professional," according to the court minutes. His brother Maurice got 4 years, with almost 2 years of that credited to time already served. Pamela Holmes received 3 years, with 2 years credited for time served. With the exception of an appeal later filed by Kevin Smith, which is still pending, the case of M.W., child prostitute, drew to a close.
A court-appointed psychologist wrote that Pam had found God and repented. "Ms. Holmes believes that 'God can heal me. My kids have been going to church for two and a half years. They are studying the Bible and singing. God gave me a Christian lawyer and investigator. I have a Christian penpal.'
"Ms. Holmes has lost her home in Lemon Grove. She said it doesn't matter, and she knows she obtained it improperly because the funds were from prostitution. The Chaplain is willing to help her when she is released from custody. She is hopeful for the future.
"Ms. Holmes believes she is morally culpable because she was in the prostitution business so long and she should have told M. it was wrong and how bad it was. 'I'm guilty for portraying that maybe this lifestyle is okay.' She wants to go back to school. She is interested in real estate and hopes to be able to get a license and go into this type of business."