Simmons and another man, 33-year-old Franklin Coit, were charged Tuesday after the FBI’s human-trafficking-prevention Safe Streets Task Force raided a converted warehouse in the 200 block of South Pulaski Street as part of an investigation into a prostitution ring that had been operating “over the past several years,” according to police.
Authorities seized a .40-caliber handgun, drugs, prostitution “tally sheets” and ledgers, and several computers, laptops and flash drives. Also seized were a “large amount of condoms … and sex aids,” records show.
Simmons posted $50,000 bond and was released, court records show.
Inside the former industrial warehouse Tuesday afternoon, a manually operated elevator carried tenants and visitors to large photo studios and businesses housed in the building, none of which appeared to advertise a club.
Ian Noel, who owns Alternative Healing Consultation on the warehouse’s first floor, said he’d worked in the building for a decade.
”It’s embarrassing to me,” Noel said. “It’s easy to make associations. I don’t think patients would do that, but there is the chance [they’ll think], ‘Oh, that’s the building that had the prostitution ring.’”
In 2010, prosecutors say, detectives responding to an ad for a prostitute arrested Simmons and Coit after they arrived at a hotel with a young woman in their vehicle.
Simmons received one year of unsupervised probation and a $300 fine, while all charges against Coit were dropped, records show.
”The focus of the investigation was Mr. Simmons, as the majority of the evidence was against him,” said Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Amanda Walker-Rodriguez of the 2010 case. “The only thing that linked Mr. Coit to any illegal activity was his presence in the car.”
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said that, in hindsight, the punishment Simmons received “was not enough to deter his conduct.” He said prosecutors, as well as judges, need “some more education to understand how serious” such cases are.
Chief Kevin Cartwright, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department, said Simmons had been employed by the agency since 2000. According to the city’s Open Baltimore site, Simmons is listed as a “firefighter/paramedic” making $57,000 a year.
Law enforcement has put more emphasis on human trafficking recently, and there has been an increase in the past year “not only in the number of cases but also the use of violence, force and coercion,” Walker-Rodriguez said. “With the added number of local and federal agencies taking notice of this issue, I can only imagine that number is going to continue to rise.”
It was not clear if the 2010 case had any impact on Simmons’ employment. Cartwright said that generally, a guilty verdict would be grounds for a dismissal, but a probation before judgment is not considered a criminal conviction.
Cartwright said Simmons has been suspended without pay in connection with the new charges, pending an internal investigation by the Fire Department.
Coit, meanwhile, has a prior criminal record including a 1998 conviction for armed robbery and assault in Baltimore County. He received 20 years in prison with all but 15 years suspended.