A lawyer representing an accused pimp who allegedly operated in Australia, the US and Dubai says he is a peaceful businessman.
Jamaican man Damion St Patrick Baston was “a master manipulator” who forced seven young, attractive women from Australia, New Zealand, Lithuania and the United States to become high-end prostitutes, a US court has been told.
Baston, 37, faces life in a US prison if convicted of sex trafficking charges.
On the opening day of his trial in Miami, Florida, on Monday a jury was told six of the women, including an Australian Baston married in 2010, would testify.
Prosecutor Olivia Choe told the federal court that Baston lured an Australian woman into prostitution while she was working in a restaurant and attending college on Queensland’s Gold Coast in 2011.
Baston told her that he ran an escort business called The Bachelors and persuaded her to work for him, the court heard.
“She wasn’t allowed to talk back and she wasn’t allowed to leave,” Choe said, alleging that Baston threatened the woman with a knife, gripped her tightly by the neck and banged her head on a car, the Miami-Herald reported.
“She thought she was going to die.”
Baston brought the woman to Miami the following year and got her escort work through South Florida’s network of strip clubs, but then the woman had to return to Australia when her visa expired.
Her family alerted US authorities and Baston was arrested in New York in December.
The prosecutor alleged Baston travelled to Australia, Dubai and other places to entice women into his escort service, would advertise the women on the internet but keep their earnings for himself.
Baston’s defence lawyer, David Rowe, described his client as a peaceful businessman who ran a legitimate escort service in Australia.
Rowe said a Saudi royal prince even asked Baston to come to Dubai to open an escort business in the United Arab Emirates.
“Mr Baston was promoting an alternative lifestyle (for men) to ease the pressure of modern society,” Rowe said.
Baston plans to testify during the two-week trial, his lawyer said.