Alleged victim testifies in Putnam and Thongsy trial
When the trial began for two people who allegedly pimped teenage girls in Roseville, Placer County Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Macumber warned the jury it would hear more about the Sacramento region’s bleak and exploitive landscape of prostitution than it ever wanted to know — and that forecast became a reality Wednesday, though erratic testimony from one of the reported victims in the case presented the prosecution with no shortage of challenges.
The trial to determine whether Stephen Putnam and Syla Thongsy compelled a 15-year-old girl and 16-year-old girl to perform sex acts with clients out of a picturesque Roseville neighborhood started Tuesday, with Judge Mark S. Curry presiding. Putnam and Thongsy are charged with felony counts of pimping and pandering. During opening arguments, Macumber had acknowledged to the jurors that one of the alleged victims, Angelica, was very cooperative with law enforcement while the other, Terri, was problematic and evasive with investigators. On Wednesday, Macumber called Terri to the witness stand first.
Throughout the course of a nearly six-hour examination, Terri recalled that she had ran away from an uncomfortable home life in the summer of 2010 and “lied” to Thongsy when they first met, saying she had been kicked out, was living on the streets against her will and had no place to go. Terri said Thongsy purchased her food, new clothes and then brought her to the Thongsy family home in Sacramento, where she stayed for several days. Terri was soon joined by a runaway friend, Angelica, at which point Thongsy began buying both teens food and renting them a room to stay in at the Motel 6 on Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento.
“Did Miss Thongsy ever provide you drugs or alcohol?” Macumber asked.
“Yes, alcohol because we asked for it,” Terri replied. “Also cocaine and marijuana, because we asked for it.”
Terri later insisted that Thongsy believed at the time both minors were 18.
Macumber turned her attention to what transpired a month into knowing Thongsy.
“She said we couldn’t keep living off of her for free,” Terri answered.
Terri soon described in detail how, after Thongsy left, she and Angelica walked down Stockton Boulevard, waiting for cars to pull up next to them so they could take men back to the motel room. She explained they knew Stockton Boulevard was notorious for street-walking and men cruising, looking to pay for sex acts. She added that she and Angelica had done things with “tricks” on the boulevard two nights in a row. Terri adamantly denied Thongsy – a known prostitute, according to her own attorney – told either of the teens to do it, or had any knowledge they were planning to sell themselves. Terri also testified that when Thongsy later learned about what they had done, she only offered advice on the safest and easiest ways to engage in prostitution and then told them to always use condoms.
“And did you give Miss Thongsy any of the money you had made?” Macumber inquired.
“We gave her $40,” Terri said. “She didn’t ask us for any money. We chose to give it to her because of the money she had spent on food and the room.”
Later in the afternoon, Terri changed her testimony, saying that she and Angelica had given Thongsy $100, but still maintained Thongsy had not asked for it.
According to Terri’s testimony, at some point she and Angelica were taken to Putnam’s posh, two-story home on Wood Leaf Circle in Roseville, a location where police had previously arrested Putnam and adult women for prostitution activities back in 2008. Terri denied she had been engaged in prostitution at Putnam’s residence. She also told Macumber rather bluntly that a number of statements she made in 2010 to Roseville police detectives and investigators from the Placer County District Attorney’s Office were “lies.”
Terri was eventually subject to cross-examination by Thongsy’s attorney, Dionne Choyce.
“During the whole time you were away from home in 2010 you had your own phone and could have contacted someone at anytime and left, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” Terri said.
“Did anyone ever force you to do prostitution?” Choyce went on.
“No,” Terri answered.
“Isn’t it true that when you met Miss Thongsy you lied about your age?” Choyce asked.
“Yes,” Terri said.
“Why did you lie about your age?” he continued.
“Because she wouldn’t have wanted us around,” Terri responded.
“Did Miss Thongsy ever threaten you at any point?” Choyce asked.
“No,” Terri said.
“Why did you prostitute?”
“Because we chose to,” Terri said.
Choyce asked in quiet voice, “Because you needed money to survive?”
Terri nodded: “Yes.”
Before Terri left the stand, Macumber began to ask her questions about the more cooperative of the two alleged victims in the case.
“Did Angelica ever tell you she was scared to leave Miss Thongsy?” Macumber inquired.
“Yeah,” Terri replied. “After I left, Angelica called me, all panicky, and said she wanted to leave, and I told her, ‘then just go,’ and she said she didn’t think she could.”
This statement drew cross-examination from Putnam’s attorney, Daniel Nicholson.
“Didn’t Angelica know first-hand that Miss Thongsy had driven you home to your father when you asked her to?” Nicholson questioned.
“Yeah, she knew,” Terri said. “She was in the car when I got taken home.”
The Press Tribune will run a follow-up story on the trial after the other alleged victim testifies, and more evidence is presented.
Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at ScottA_RsvPT