U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta ordered Kelsey C. Wheeler, 27, to remain in custody on a charge of sex trafficking a child, pending her trial. Her defense lawyer had proposed releasing her to a motel room pending trial. (Dave Killen|Staff)
A lawyer for Kelsey Wheeler, a Portland woman accused of attempting to offer her 3-year-old child for a paid sexual encounter, urged a judge Thursday to release Wheeler to a motel while she awaits trial.
Defense lawyer Susan Wilk, who works for the federal public defender’s office, said Wheeler’s mom would pay for the motel as the case is pending. Wilk said she initially had asked if Wheeler could be placed at the Northwest Regional Re-entry Center but found out the center wouldn’t accept Wheeler.
Wheeler, 27, is charged with sex trafficking a child.
Without waiting to hear from the prosecutor, U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta shot down the motel proposal.
"It’s not acceptable…given the allegation and nature of the charge,” Acosta said. "The allegations involved behavior either occurring at or planned to occur at a motel room.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Kerin successfully argued for Wheeler to remain in custody.
Wheeler has been working as a prostitute, advertising "mother-daughter experiences,” as well as "fetishes” and "taboos,” using online sites such as Backpage.com, Kerin told the judge.
"This defendant treated her 3-year-old daughter as a sexual commodity,” Kerin said. "The fact that a mother would offer up her 3-year-old daughter for $1,000 for someone to have sex with is appalling.”
According to FBI Special Agent Michael Palmer, Wheeler’s name arose during a child pornography investigation.
A man interviewed in Eugene who used the online moniker, "notpervect,” told the FBI that he had met a woman in Portland through her Backpage advertisement in January. They had sent text messages back and forth about "fantasies and taboo/ extreme fetishes, which included sexual relations with children,” Palmer wrote in an affidavit. According to the Eugene man, the woman who called herself Kelly Kox told him she could arrange an "encounter” between him and her daughter for $1,000, the affidavit said.
FBI agents learned Kox’s real name was Wheeler and visited her Southeast Portland apartment on April 13. They took Wheeler to Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct to interview her.
She told them she had worked as a prostitute on and off since she was 15, and was currently only providing massages, foot fetish encounters and "body worshiping services,” the affidavit said. She said she was not having sex for money because of her weight, about 400 pounds, and other medical issues, Palmer wrote.
Wheeler denies that she ever offered her daughter to a client, her lawyer said. Wheeler does suffer from heart problems, morbid obesity, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, Wilk said.
Wilk said in court that she expects prosecutors will have difficulty proving any substantial action was taken to support the allegation of sex trafficking of a child.
"She was planning to scam the guy,” Wilk said. "She never intended to involve her child.”
Wheeler told the FBI she offered to provide the Eugene man with a child under six years old for the sexual encounter, but never offered her daughter. The Eugene man, she told the FBI, offered her $6,000 for that experience. She said she was angered and never really intended to provide a child for the man’s sexual gratification but she did play along because she intended to take his money, the affidavit said.
The proposed sexual encounter with a child never occurred, the affidavit said.
During the course of its investigation, the FBI learned that Wheeler was the subject of a child protective service complaint in 2015. Someone complained that Wheeler, an adult man and her daughter were in an apartment bedroom in Las Vegas, all with minimal clothing on, the affidavit said. Wheeler denied that ever occurred.
Wheeler also was reported to have been working as a prostitute on 82nd Avenue in Portland in February, as her daughter was in a car seat in the back of a vehicle, Kerin said.
The 3-year-old daughter now is in the care of her maternal grandmother, Wilk said.
Wheeler, who was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center at 2:20 a.m. on Friday, remains in custody on a U.S. Marshal’s hold.
— Maxine Bernstein