Accused forced sex slave ‘madam’ in confrontation
A woman accused of assisting alleged 'pimp' Matthew Markcrow to run an alleged illegal prostitution ring in suburban Brisbane caused a scene outside court, lunging at photographers after she was granted bail yesterday.
Crystal Marie Sawyer, 23, was charged after police allegedly uncovered evidence to support "sexual servitude and organised prostitution" during raids at Queensland properties.
Young women and girls were being kept as sex slaves at a Brisbane house where they were drugged and controlled by a "pimp" whose name was tattooed on their bodies labelling them as his property, police have alleged.
Detectives on Thursday arrested and charged Matthew James Markcrow, 35, and his girlfriend (Sawyer) who they allege were running an illegal prostitution racket involving sexual slavery, the administration of "stupefying drugs" and secret filming of the girls with clients.
The court heard Sawyer appeared to "exert authority" over three other women.
"Sawyer stated that she was like a mother to the other girls," police prosecutor Sgt Mark Hughes told the court.
"Police observed the other girls followed Sawyer's leadership during the search.
"Sawyer demonstrated a degree of control over the other girls.
"Sawyer is now the senior girl and exerts authority in the absence of Markcrow."
When the couple saw each other in the holding cells of the Brisbane watch-house she yelled "I'll take care of everything for you", the court heard.
Police allege Sawyer assisted Markcrow in running the allegedly illegal prostitution business.
She has been charged with knowingly carry on the business of prostitution and failing to provide the passcode to her mobile phone and laptop, which was found in a unit connected to the alleged prostitution business in South Brisbane.
She has not been charged with a servitude offence.
Sawyer's Legal Aid lawyer Lily Berkeley said the prosecution case was not supported by evidence and her client had been "somewhat prematurely" charged.
"Police failed to provide any concrete evidence to say that she has been conducting in this business so far," she said.
The court heard Sawyer had previously been found guilty of engaging in prostitution through unlawful prostitution business. She received a $1200 fine with no conviction recorded.
A distressed Sawyer fled from media as she left the watch-house after being granted bail.
Markcrow is facing 10 charges in total, including a Commonwealth offence of sexual servitude of a minor.
Police have alleged the girls, aged between 17 and 24, were recruited by Markcrow via social media apps and often came from difficult family backgrounds.
They were kept at the Brisbane house but driven to an inner-city apartment to have sex with clients, police say.
The Courier-Mail also tracked Markcrow to a riverside apartment complex where police allege the young women had been kept as recently as last November.
A man at the complex said he had seen the often heavily made-up girls coming and going in luxury vehicles.
Luxury vehicles, including a BMW and an Audi, had also been seen at the Brisbane house where police found Markcrow, his girlfriend and the young women.
Police have alleged that the women had been tattooed with "Property of Matt M" on various parts of their body.
Detective Inspector Juliet Hancock, officer in charge of the Prostitution Enforcement Taskforce, described the investigation as "shocking" and "confronting".
She said police were still working to identify whether there were more young women and believed there were at least two others.
They urged any other young women who had been involved in the alleged prostitution to come forward.
"We received information from a concerned community member that at least four young women had (allegedly) been recruited, provided with drugs and illegally prostituted against their own will," she said.
She said the investigation began in October as a result of that information. Police raided the Brisbane house and the inner-city apartment on Thursday where they found four women, some of them heavily drugged.
"The level of coercion and control is something that we are still investigating," Det Insp Hancock said.
"If someone is heavily drugged, their ability to actually consent is diminished or they can't consent.
"It's pretty hard to shock police. This one's confronting.
"When you consider those aspects - vulnerable young women (allegedly) being recruited, being drugged, being prostituted and being tattooed - that's pretty confronting."
Det Insp Hancock said it was clear some of the women did not understand what police were alleging - that they were being coerced, drugged and prostituted, with Markcrow allegedly keeping all of the earnings.
"I spoke to some of the women yesterday," she said.
"It would be I think fair to say that some of them don't understand they've (allegedly) been exploited.
"And a couple of them yesterday were definitely very heavily under the influence of drugs.
"So I don't think they understood yesterday when I was talking to them."
Joe Burgoyne, who was at the riverside complex where Markcrow allegedly ran his operation for some time, said he had seen him there many times.
"The girls were driving a shitty car, then a couple of months later they were driving nice expensive cars," he said.
"Six o'clock in the morning and late at night you could see the Audi drive past and the girls would drive the Beamer.
"Apart from that, a year later there was some fighting, a lot of yelling, then they moved out."
Markcrow, who describes himself online as an "entrepreneur, share trader, poker extraordinaire, and business opportunist" fronted the Brisbane Magistrates Court charged with conducting a business involving servitude, conducting a business of unlawful prostitution and making recordings in breach of privacy.
Legal aid lawyer Madeline Coburn said her client was on a return to prison warrant and did not make an application for bail.
Markcrow mouthed "I love you" to a young woman in the back of the court and made a heart symbol before being led from the room.
Magistrate Steve Courtney said the allegations against Markcrow had a "particularly sinister flavour".
The court heard when Sawyer saw Markcrow in the holding cells at the watch-house, she yelled: "I'll take care of everything for you."
Sgt Hughes said police were worried she would take over the running of the "business" if released on bail.
"She is now the senior girl and exerts authority," he said.
Det Insp Hancock pleaded for anyone with information to come forward immediately.
"Community members need to come forward. Because what could present as being organised prostitution, may be exploitation," she said.
She also encouraged any clients who believe they may be involved to come forward.
The women have been referred to health and wellbeing agencies, while one of the women was also referred to the Vulnerable Persons Unit for prior domestic violence related concerns.
Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000.
Originally published as Accused sex slave 'madam' in confrontation with photographer