NORTH TEXAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) -“I remember when this came out I was in prison,” Rebekah Charleston said.
Charleston is talking about a 2006 I-Team investigation into a prostitution ring operating out of a very unlikely place- an upscale Denton home.
She sits down with the I-Team more than a decade later along with another women, who was also part of the prostitution ring, and the two men who were responsible for shutting the ring down.
Today, they tell us they were not criminals. They were victims.
The victims of human trafficking, Rebekah Charleston and Rebecca Bender, were reunited with former IRS Investigator Mark Parsons and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Stover-the very men who investigated them.
Twelve years ago, CBS11 ran a story about a prostitution ring in a Denton suburb. Charleston says she and other women lived in that house with their pimp.
“I’m going to cry,” she said while watching the old story that ran back in 2006. A tough thing for her to do, because she and her friend Bender, both suffered mental and physical abuse from the same pimp.
The story ran right after Charleston, 26, was arrested for money laundering and tax evasion. It was all part of the high-dollar, prostitution ring operating at that Denton home.
Bender, 27, was living at their other home in Las Vegas with her 9-year-old daughter and other women.
“It was hard seeing the other women and knowing what was happening,” Bender said,
Particularly hard because more than a decade later, these women tell the I-Team what was really happening inside the home.
“We all had to call each other sisters,” Bender said.
“If you’d didn’t obey the rules, you ‘d be beaten,” added Charleston.
Instead of criminals, these women say they were victims lured into this lifestyle, brainwashed and beaten if they did not follow orders.
But the two men who put them behind bars knew exactly what was happening inside. Parsons was the IRS investigator who followed them all over the country.
“They never were the focus of our case,” he said.
Stover, the Assistant U.S Attorney who prosecuted them, said the women were never the real target.
“We’d spent many hours with other women brought into prostitution by deception and then kept there with violence,” said Stover.
The investigators hoped that by arresting the women, they would get the real criminal, the man who was trafficking them. But the women say they were too afraid to give up.
The women were forced to stay in shape, pose for lewd photos and told how to walk and talk. “He designed everything about us,” Charleston said.
“From our hair color- we had a blonde, brunette and red head and when Rebecca came around, she was the exotic one.”
The women said the pimp guided them in opening businesses to disguise the money, making them feel successful but all the while controlling every dime without putting anything in his name.
“The use assets of enticement, as a lifestyle, not only with the brainwashing the emotional control, the physical control,” said Parsons.
In the story in May 2006, the I-Team revealed Charleston was a partner in a Denton pizza business. She was in a newspaper ad for the business.
“He had me order blue and green contacts and I would wear them on different nights he’d tell me to wear my hair curly or straight,” said Charleston, who had bright blue eyes in the pizza ad but really has brown eyes.
The women were so terrified of violence, they did everything they could to protect their pimp. “When someone beats you and you have blood coming out of your mouth… you believe that when they tell you they’ll kill you if you tell on them,” she said.
He literally beat into them on how to protect him when they got caught.
“All night, he’d have me sit on the floor and he said, ‘what’s your name?’ and I’d say, ‘lawyer,’ and he’d punch me it he face. ‘What’s your address? Lawyer,’ punch me in the face,” Bender recalls.
“We were beaten to respond that way. prison of war style brainwashing that way.” And that’s exactly what happened when IRS investigator Parson arrested them. “When we arrested Becca, she just smiled at us and said lawyer,” he remembers.
Looking at the pictures taken during the raid of that Denton home, a koi pond is built into the theater floor.
There are murals in the garage, “that mirror you could see through when you turned it on,” Bender told CBS11.
The women also spoke about those house rules, “we would have been beaten for not making that bed,” Bender said.
The women were told to memorize some mantras, “family is only as strong as its weakest link,” Bender recalls.
But some demands were anything but funny. “He had very strict rules for everything you had to do,” Charleston remembers one hurtful situation. “We were at the house and he told he had to make sure I was doing everything right so I had to treat him like a customer,” Charleston said. “I cried as he raped me.”
The women were also forced to stay in shape and pose lewd photos and also told how to walk and talk.
“We were almost like the Stepford wives in a way,” Charleston said. “We had a blonde, brunette and red head and when Rebecca came around, she was the exotic one.”
A lot has changed in the last decade.. the women and the two men who investigated them.
After Charleston got out of prison in 2007 and Bender escaped with her 9-year-old girl, their lives have been reformed. They are now actively helping other women and helping law enforcement catch the traffickers.
Bender lives in Oregon with her family and is now an ordained minister. She is training thousands of investigators all over the world through the Rebecca Bender Initiative.
“We knew it was existing in American communities to American kids and nobody was noticing. And if they could better understand what was happening behind the scenes then maybe cases and people could be rescued sooner
Charleston is back in Texas getting her masters in criminal justice. She’s an executive director at Valiant Hearts– a program she went through in 2012. She’s using her past to change the future of others.
“I am hopeful this piece shows how much progress our country, law enforcement and the general public has made in the last ten years,” Bender said.
WATCH OUR ORIGINAL STORY FROM 2006 HERE: