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Walk the lie 

"I did everything for the least bit of nothing ... I handled everything wrong."

By the summer of 2006, Levar Simms wanted out of Washington, D.C. His hometown offered nothing but stress. Childhood friends kept getting locked up, or killed. Because of a neglected speeding ticket, he says he was fired from his job driving disabled people around the District. Things got so bad he had to ask his mom for help with the rent.

So Simms, then 28, decided to take advantage of his bad luck. "I figured right there I was going to go on vacation," he says. After signing up for unemployment, he sent his son to stay with his ex and headed for the family home in Greensboro, N.C.

The laid-back atmosphere was just what he needed. Simms' cousins, always ready for a party, took him to clubs all over the state and beyond, sometimes driving as far as Atlanta, and helped him make a little money with odd jobs. The cost of living was low enough, he says, you didn't really need a steady paycheck. Simms and his cousins talked about opening a gentleman's club -- he says it'd be legal, of course -- in the apartment they had in town.

The place was already something of an all-hours hangout. His cousins and their friends went there to party, he says, "playing cards, drinking, things of that nature." There were girls, too. Simms was dating one of them, Kimberly, whom he knew from back in D.C. She was an exotic dancer and took tricks on the side through "erotic service" ads on Craigslist, but Simms says it wasn't like she was a full-time prostitute.

"She had a plan where she was going to do that -- dancing or Craigslist -- for a minute and then go to nursing school," he says. Simms says he had nothing to do with it.

One day a new girl showed up at the pad. She was petite, pretty, and a little chubby. Her name was Lynette. She knew another girl who knew Simms' cousins. Right away, she gravitated to Kimberly and her clique. Simms says he didn't notice much about Lynette right away. "It was a party atmosphere," he says. "She did a lot of communicating with the other girls." Lynette told everyone she'd had some trouble with the aunt she'd been staying with in Greensboro, and she seemed to enjoy the group's vibe. "She came around more and more and more," Simms says.

He picked up on one thing about the new girl. "She looked of age," he says. Lynette made a big deal about celebrating her 22nd birthday.

In July, Simms says, he and a few of the ladies, including Lynette, decided to take a trip to D.C. They drove north in two cars, he says, and Lynette didn't ride with him. Camping out at his apartment on Jay Street NE, the friends continued their vacation with an assault on D.C. nightlife. The women went dancing at clubs almost every night. Lynette, Kimberly, and another girl were all taking tricks on Craigslist, Simms says.

He still insists he had no stake in the enterprise. He says the women took their own pictures for the ads and made and spent their own money. They just happened to be crashing at his place.

On Aug. 14, 2006, D.C. police officers patrolling Rhode Island Avenue NE noticed a baby-faced girl walking the run-down strip in a miniskirt and heels. They pulled her aside. It didn't take long to wear down her resistance. She offered one name first, then gave police her real one. She was 16 years old, she told them, and had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution by a man named Var. She pulled out a cell phone and dialed the number listed under "Daddy" and told police he drove a dark, late-'80s Ford Thunderbird. She said he'd have a laptop in the car and maybe some weed. Minutes later, Levar Simms pulled up in an '88 Thunderbird.

Lynette told police her version of how she and Simms ended up together in D.C.

Like Simms, she went to North Carolina seeking an escape. The 16-year-old girl had been under legal supervision since catching an assault charge at age 12. Growing up, Lynette's frequent violations of the terms of her release kept her in constant contact with case workers and in and out of foster homes, treatment facilities, and juvenile detention centers. She would later tell government attorneys that she'd been raped by her mother's boyfriend just before her life in crime began.

In June 2006, Lynette decided she wanted to go to North Carolina to attend the Super Jam hip-hop festival. Her probation officer said "no way," but her mom said "yes." She took the bus down by herself, violating her probation once again and generating a warrant for her arrest. Lynette ended up settling in for an extended stay at the home of her friend's mom.

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