A Dallas teen who was sex trafficked in 2022 is suing an Oklahoma extended-stay hotel and the Texas companies behind it.
Zeke Fortenberry, a Dallas-based attorney, filed a complaint on behalf of a teen girl who was lured away from a Dallas Mavericks game, sexually assaulted, drugged, transported to Oklahoma City, and sex trafficked in a hotel for over a week in 2022.
As previously covered in The Dallas Express, the victim and her parents have voiced their disappointment in how the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot’s office handled the case from its outset. The 15-year-old was treated as a runaway, and her parents were forced to turn to a private investigator to find her. The girl was traced to a hotel in Oklahoma City thanks to the PI uncovering photos of her in advertisements for sex that had been posted online.
After the teen’s rescue, Oklahoma authorities arrested eight individuals, two of whom have already pleaded guilty to trafficking and child porn charges. However, in Dallas County, a grand jury threw out the charges of sexual assault of a child against 33-year-old Emanuel Cartagena, the man accused of luring the girl away from the American Airlines Center initially.
As Fortenberry explained in a news release, the hotel at which the young victim was found — Extended Stay America OKC Hotel (ESA OKC Hotel) — was “known for pimps and prostitutes,” as attested to by police reports and guest reviews.
“On one occasion, a hotel employee saw the 15-year-old victim crying in the lobby while two adult men escorted her to their room and yet did nothing,” the release claimed. “Other times, men patrolled the hotel hallway with an AK-47 style assault rifle.”
The lawsuit further contends that at least two different rooms had been rented by 44-year-old Kenneth Nelson, a registered sex offender who is now serving 25 years in prison on charges of sex trafficking and more in connection with this case. The victim can be seen in surveillance footage being brought from room to room, where she was allegedly forced to perform sex acts with Johns while under the influence of illicit substances, according to the complaint.
ESA OKC Hotel is owned by the real estate investment firm Provident Realty Advisors, which is based in Dallas and has a portfolio of hotels and apartment complexes across the metroplex, as covered in The Dallas Express. The hotel is managed and operated by Aimbridge Hospitality, which is headquartered in Plano and manages other properties in North Texas.
While neither firm has commented directly on the litigation targeting them, the manager of ESA OKC Hotel reportedly said that employees are trained to report suspected activities of human trafficking or prostitution to their managers, according to the lawsuit.
Yet Fortenberry suggested that ESA, Provident Realty, and Aimbridge “put profits over people” and are thus liable for damages for not properly training hotel employees. Rather than providing the teen victim aid, they “ignored the red flags indicating sex trafficking and accepted the pimp’s cash payments for multiple hotel rooms day after day,” the news release stated.
In 2023, Dallas saw a 15.4% rise in human trafficking cases compared to the year prior, according to the City of Dallas crime analytics dashboard. Black and Hispanic women and girls represent the overwhelming share of victims.
DPD has been laboring under a significant staffing shortage, fielding only 3,000 officers even though a City analysis previously called for around 4,000 to ensure public safety. Yet City officials have budgeted only $654 million for police operations this fiscal year, which is far less than the spending seen in other high-crime jurisdictions, such as New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
The effects of the officer shortage are most apparent in Downtown Dallas, where the American Airlines Center is located. The area logs as many as seven times more crime reports than Fort Worth’s downtown area each month. The latter is patrolled by a dedicated police unit and private security guards.