An Illinois man with a history of meeting women on Facebook and forcing them into prostitution has been indicted on a charge of trafficking sex workers out of a Bloomington motel.
Darnell Deshawn Stennis, 29, coerced two women, ages 23 and 26, into having sex with men for money in several states, according to the federal charges. When one of them refused to prostitute herself for him, Stennis choked her, smashed her head into a towel rack in a bathroom of the hotel, then threw her against the toilet, the charges say.
At the time of his arrest at the hotel, on March 25, 2019, Stennis was wanted by police in California and Indiana. He was also facing similar charges in Ohio.
According to the federal charges:
Bloomington police came to the La Quinta Inn & Suites, 5151 W. American Blvd., after a guest reported hearing yelling and what "sounded like someone being thrown against the wall" from another room. The officers found a nervous-looking Stennis in the hall. Stennis said there'd been an argument but denied any violence.
Inside the room, officers found signs of a struggle: luggage and clothing strewn around, a broken towel rack and toilet seat cracked into pieces. The women who were staying with him are not named in court documents.
One of the women later told police Stennis had assaulted her a few weeks earlier, while prostituting in St. Louis, because she "did not make Stennis enough money." The woman said Stennis "always pressured her to post prostitution advertisements and to make more money by prostituting."
They left St. Louis shortly afterward to pick up the second woman in St. Paul. On March 23, all three traveled to Minot, N.D., where they stayed in a hotel and the women prostituted at Stennis' orders. Business was too slow in North Dakota for Stennis' liking, so he took them to Bloomington and ended up at the La Quinta.
One of the victims said she gave Stennis all the money she made from sexual encounters with 25 men, about $2,000. She said Stennis "threatened to hurt her multiple times and spoke aggressively towards her." After his arrest, Stennis told one of the women to continue prostituting for him. He called her every day from jail and told her to get the other woman to "drop the charges."
Stennis was charged with promoting prostitution in the area of Westlake, Ohio, a month and a half before the incident at La Quinta, according to Rocky River court records. In that case, the woman said Stennis made her have sex for money in St. Louis and Memphis before bringing her to a motel in Ohio.
According to Cleveland.com, Stennis would not let the woman go home, despite her pleas. At one point she texted her mother with Stennis' phone, in capital letters: "Mama this is me I'm tryna get a way but this man won't let me out of his sight we finally going to Peoria I hope today but. Please don't call or text this phone. Please dont I dont have a phone anymore I will contact u as soon as I can please don't call or text this phone," according to the newspaper.
The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Stennis in a sealed complaint on Jan. 2 and filed the indictment this week. He faces one count of sex trafficking by force and two counts of transporting individuals for prostitution.
Stennis is scheduled to appear in federal court in St. Paul for his arraignment on Feb. 6.
Stennis' attorney, Paul Applebaum, said that he and his client have not yet had a chance to review the indictment.
"I can say, however, that Mr. Stennis is presumed innocent and has his own side of the story to tell at the appropriate time," he said.
Stennis is being held without bond by the U.S. Marshals Service.