The child sex ring allegations originated from two articles published in March 2005: one by Ralph G. Kershaw, and one by Dan Hayworth and Roger Schmid. Both of these articles cited unnamed law enforcement sources, and spun a complicated story connecting the Bush family, Yang Enterprises (the corrupt contractor I mention above), the suiciding of Florida state investigator Ray Lemme, Coggins Farms (a major agricultural producer in South Georgia), illegal immigrants, an elite pedophile ring in Valdosta GA, and the John Couey case. At face value, this is difficult to believe without any sourcing. But much of it does appear to check out.
First of all, a former employee of Coggins Farms stated publicly to John Caylor that Coggins was trafficking illegal immigrants for farm labor and sex. Quite notably, this interview was conducted in December 2004, but was only released publicly around June 2005, three months after the Kershaw and Hayworth/Schmid articles. Yet Kershaw and Hayworth/Schmid mentioned Coggins Farms and even brought up a very specific detail - the use of "nickelmen" to provide false SSNs - matching what the former employee said. That implies that their anonymous law enforcement sources might actually be the real deal.
Second, the death of Ray Lemme is indeed highly suspicious. I wrote about Lemme in another wiki article a couple months before discovering these sex ring claims. He was investigating Yang Enterprises, which was tied up in a lot of suspicious business, including overbilling the state, Chinese espionage, employing illegal aliens, and writing election rigging software for Tom Feeney. Those of you familiar with the Clint Curtis story might recall some of this. Lemme investigated Curtis's story, telling him in mid June 2003 that the corruption went "all the way to the top" and the story would break soon; a couple weeks later, Lemme wound up dead in a Valdosta GA motel room. As I summarize on the wiki page, the evidence does point to murder. Clearly, he was onto something.
Caylor and Hayworth/Schmid both say that Lemme was lured to Valdosta because he was investigating the "nickelmen" and their role in furnishing Chinese spy Henry Nee with a false SSN. That's unconfirmed, but:
- Certainly, part of Lemme's investigation of Yang Enterprises did involve the illegal alien/Chinese spy who they employed: Henry Nee
- Lemme left for Valdosta GA on the early morning of June 30, but only checked into the motel in the afternoon or evening. (I have that confirmed through phone records and a motel worker who I interviewed.) That indicates he had some other purpose for being in Valdosta than killing himself, supporting the claim that he was investigating something there.
- Henry Nee was an illegal alien. His SSN was assigned in Iowa in 1983, yet there's little evidence that he ever lived outside of Florida (some people search websites say he once lived in Iowa City, but they say that for none of his family members, which makes me think the websites are just inferring Iowa City from his SSN). So Nee having a false SSN is at least plausible.
Third, though there's no direct evidence of a child sex ring providing children to politicians, businessmen, and police officers in Valdosta, there is some evidence of a pedophilia problem there. In recent years, two Valdosta police officers were arrested for pedophilia crimes (one for child molestation, one for child porn possession), and nearly a dozen civilian and military personnel at Moody AFB in Valdosta were arrested for soliciting sex with minors.
Fourth, the John Couey case has many signs of a high-level cover-up. Couey, in February 2005, abducted Jessica Lunsford from her home, brought her back to his family's trailer, raped her, and buried her alive. But the official story holds that he did that all on his own, concealing it from his family, and then escaped the attention of the police as he got on a bus all the way to Georgia. In reality, there are many things that make the case more complicated, most of them exposed by true crime writer Chris Dahl:
- Couey's sex offender records were poorly-maintained. Several months earlier, he had failed to respond to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) letter asking him to confirm his address. The FDLE sent a letter to the local police agency (the Citrus County Sheriff's Office) asking them to confirm Couey's address, but somehow, they used an outdated address for the sheriff's department. So the letter never arrived and Couey was still a free man by February 2005.
- The police botched the investigation into Couey. He became a person of interest when the police realized they couldn't confirm his address. They came to his family's trailer during the period Couey was there and holding Jessica captive, but they didn't request a search. Later, they apparently did go inside and still didn't find Couey. After that, Couey was able to trek across US 19 for a whole week without police noticing him, before getting on a bus to Georgia. And according to a lawsuit later filed by Jessica's father Mark, during a manhunt for Jessica, search dogs identified the ground outside Couey's trailer as of-interest, but the police steered the search away from there.
- Everybody else in the trailer implausibly claimed to have no idea Couey was keeping Jessica with him. Couey even wrote an unsent letter to Bill O'Reilly claiming that someone in the trailer knew more than they were letting on. The state attorney decided not to charge the family members because he needed them to testify against Couey.
- Nor was the Lunsford family itself necessarily innocent. Mark Lunsford's computer was found to have child porn on it, an inconvenient story that the media and state attorney's office tried to bury. An assistant state attorney defended their decision not to charge Mark by saying he had "been through enough". Later, they actually lied in a letter to Mark's attorneys, and claimed no child porn had been found. (Sheriff Jeff Dawsy also approved the decision not to charge him.)
- The door was unlocked the night of Jessica's abduction, and the dog didn't bark when Couey came in. Even worse, documents on the Ocala Star Banner website (which I can no longer find) apparently revealed that Jessica had "prior healed notches" and "clefts and scars" in her hymenal area from before Couey raped her. So someone in her family was most likely either abusing her or pimping her out. The coroner said in court that Jessica had no prior signs of abuse; one day after testifying at the trial, he resigned.
- Mark Lunsford later started the Jessica Marie Lunsford foundation, which faced charges of mishandling funds for Mark's personal benefit, and tried to sue the police over botching the case (which was true, but ignores the fact that they also protected him from child porn charges). Both of these issues had the potential to force an ugly reexamination of the case. In 2007, likely CIA asset Hank Asher (a database engineer for surveillance state programs like MATRIX, with a history of drug trafficking during Iran-Contra) stepped into Lunsford's life and offered him a $100,000/yr salary to become a child advocate, on the condition that he close his foundation and drop the lawsuit.
- Couey suspiciously died in prison before his execution, right after sending Chris Dahl a letter saying he would reveal everything about his case.
Kershaw claims that Couey had gone to Valdosta GA to partake in the child prostitution business, as do Hayworth and Schmid. Other Internet allegations even claim that Couey procured children for this sex ring. His association with a politically-connected sex trafficking operation would explain the appearance of a cover-up surrounding his case. No direct evidence exists to show that Couey was involved with a sex ring like that. However, consider the following from the deposition of Gene Secord (his niece's husband):
A: [...] And that's -- he said he didn't have an ID or something like that and that's why Madie got him the bus ticket. Because he lives in Georgia or wherever. Or that's where he goes all the time
So that's where he wanted to go back to because he said he can get work there and have a place to live.
Q: Do you know why he was going to Georgia or did you have an understanding why?
A: Because that's where he lives, I guess, you know. I mean, whenever he's not with Troy and Marie he's in Georgia. So he wanted to go back there because he said he could get work and have a place to live. And so that's why he wanted to go back. But he didn't have no money, so Madie got him a bus ticket.
According to this, Couey (a Florida resident) spent so much time in Georgia that an in-law thought he lived there. What he was doing in Georgia is unknown, but it would fit with him being a part of a sex ring.
Fifth, yet another thing to note about Yang Enterprises: one of their clients was the Florida Department of Children and Families (FDCF), and their specific task was as an IT contractor for HomeSafenet, Florida's foster care case management system. During Jeb Bush's years, DCF was plagued by controversy over missing children in foster care. Kershaw even said in his article:
Jeb Bush has also been charged with covering up the fact that some 6000 children, supposedly in the care of Florida's Department of Children and Families, are now missing from foster homes and other care centers.
So again, what we know publicly corroborates Kershaw's article, and even ties Yang Enterprises to the story in another way.
Ultimately, Kershaw and Hayworth/Schmid claim: that there was an interstate pedophile network; that it used Coggins Farms as a means of procuring sex slaves; that these sex slaves were prostituted to local elites; that high-level GOP politicians protected the ring; and that the case of John Couey was connected. Some of these claims are still unverified, but many of them are corroborated by available evidence, and none (as far as I can tell) have been disproven. I'm curious what RI members think of all this.