Floyd Warter and Jessica Mertens ran a hi-tech prostitution ring in Mesa and now are headed for jail
Floyd Warter and Jessica Mertens ran a hi-tech prostitution ring in Mesa and now are headed for jail
Courtesy of MCSO

How Did a Nice Old Man Like Pimp Floyd Turn to Trafficking Women?

Pimp Floyd, at age 76, is heading to the dark side of the moon for 60 days.

The question unanswered by Maricopa County Superior Court records is why. Why did Floyd Eugene Warter, a small businessman and former Navy air traffic controller, start selling women for sex online and turn his condo in Mesa into a house of prostitution? He had no criminal record, and acquaintances praised him for being a “good guy.”.

His partner in crime, Jessica Nicole Mertens, a 32-year-old Chandler woman, won't do jail time and will get another chance to turn her life around.

The court records also detail her life story.

Warter hired Mertens as his receptionist for his unfortunately named Tempe business, Cinnful Honey, which, as the name implies, sold cinnamon-infused honey. But Mertens sold honey of another kind when she ran the brothel and turned tricks herself at the pad on Rio Salado Parkway.

She had already made bad choices about men and drugs before hooking up with Warter several years ago.

Mertens married at age 19 to a Utah man twice her age, and filed for divorce three years later. She won custody of their two kids, but lost them to a meth and heroin habit. A new boyfriend went to prison. Somewhere along the way, Mertens had a third child. She got busted for breaking into her mom’s house through a doggy door and twice went to drug court, twice to rehab, twice put on probation, and twice violated it within days.

Then came her involvement with Warter, which led to their arrests and plea deals late last year.

Warter copped to two felonies: a pot-selling charge and controlling an illegal enterprise. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, which he is due to serve at the end of the month, to be followed by 18 months’ probation.

Mertens pleaded guilty to the illegal enterprise charge and to pandering. She got three years’ probation and another chance to turn her life around.

Prosecutors dropped the seven other counts, which largely involved prostitution, money laundering, and conspiracy.

There are two versions of this story and many others like it.

The official version hinges on victims, desperation, exploitation, and guilt. It is black and white. Right and wrong. Clear. Clean. Simple.

It’s the version you get from the police reports, studies by advocates such as the McCain Institute trying to clamp down on human sex trafficking, and from events like those at Phoenix police headquarters on Thursday.

There, top city officials described an undercover sting operation at a local massage parlor, which resulted in the arrest of 86 people. January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. City leaders talked of “disgusting, appalling” stories and decried why not every city has a vice squad.

So when Mesa’s vice squad, the Human Exploitation and Trafficking or HEAT team, began investigating Warter in 2016, detectives were not surprised at all that a man born before Pearl Harbor was at the heart of it. They’d seen it all.

Warter ran a fully modern operation, police reported in court records.

State prosecutors alleged that Warter directed the operation from his iPhone and iPad, advertising on websites, posting seductive photos, arranging hookups with gentlemen callers, and even booking Uber rides for the hookers. All he had to do, police said, was open a lockbox under the kitchen table in the condo, where each prostitute would leave $60 or $100 a day, depending on how many clients they saw.

The case began when Mesa police busted a john in an unrelated case. He told them about the condo on Rio Salado. The HEAT team put the place under surveillance.

They watched men come and go every 30 or 60 minutes, followed by women a couple of minutes later, they said in court records. On one occasion, they watched two women leave the apartment and dump a bag of trash. It had used condoms in it.

Detectives found an online ad a few months later in the body rub section, featuring a “scantily clad female wearing a small bikini bottom and a small tank-top.” Police answered the ad and arranged a hookup for cash.

When police arrived at the scene, they found an empty unit with little furniture other than massage tables in each of the two bedrooms. Police detained a woman who met them, and she later told them she was supposed to put $100 in the kitchen lock box every time she had customers, according to the booking sheet filed in court.

The woman went on to tell police, they said, that Warter routinely picked up the cash, paid for her Uber ride to the brothel from her pad, and had at least a couple other girls working for him.

Sex crimes detectives got a search warrant for Warter’s Uber account. It yielded 50 trips to and from the Rio Salado condo, and when they checked ads for the three women they knew about, they found 146 pages of adult ads for escorts, body rubs and the like, police said.

The “scantily dressed and nude women, posing in seductive positions” listed their location as the general vicinity of the Rio Salado place, police said.

Quickly after his arrest in April, Warter told police he’d used the place for prostitution seven or eight times, and confirmed the other details.

The evidence assembled against him was substantial. In court, prosecutors listed 136 items of evidence ranging from crime scene photos, Facebook postings, bank accounts, corporate records, surveillance logs, phone records, and data from Uber.

Cops found listings for 15 women, with names like Amber, Jaz, Kayla, Shaelene, Diamond, and Brittany.
They, along with 27 cops, were listed as potential witnesses.

No wonder Warter pleaded out. With the severity of the charges arrayed against him, he was facing the rest of his life in prison.

The other version of this kind of story is how Warter and Mertens ended up in their situation. It's the one that’s not clean, but messy. Not straightforward, but murky. Complicated. The one involving human weaknesses and frailties in which the crimes are victimless and the acts involve consenting adults.

In that version of events, the one that emerges from defense attorneys and in sentencing documents, Warter didn’t try to exploit women, but rather sought to help them. And Mertens was a mere unfortunate, not the stereotypical teen runaway. Police offered no evidence that the pair was pimping underage girls.

Some of Warter’s skewed self-perception of innocence was laid out in court records. His lawyer filed a notice that he planned to defend his client based on his good character and lack of criminal intent.

Separately, Warter filed to get his stuff back, contesting the civil asset forfeiture, to use the legal lingo, when police busted him. He listed the two digital cameras, the Mac computer, the HP laptop, the portable hard-drive, the two printers and the two message tables. He claimed the property was not used for any criminal activity.

No dice, the court ruled.

Warter’s attorney, Kyle Reedy, tried to explain his client’s conduct in a letter imploring the judge to be lenient.

“Being entangled in this case is entirely foreign and out of character for Gene,” Reedy wrote.

“His lack of sophistication is obvious in the candor and cooperation he offered law enforcement when he was arrested,” Reedy added, pointing out Warter had never been in trouble with the law. “While not justifying what he was doing, he simply explained that he was providing a safe environment for the willing participants.”

Reedy pointed out small amounts of cash that were seized from his house and bank accounts as “evidence he was not exploiting or profiting from the operation.”

In previous court records, Warter claimed he brought in $3,200 a month from his small businesses and social security, but had $3,190 in expenses. None of it was extravagant: rent, utilities, insurance on two aging trucks.
Warter had grown up in Globe and joined the Navy in 1959. He became and air traffic controller, fell in love with aviation and got a pilot’s license. A stroke ended his flying career in 1997.

“Staying busy and working hard are part of Gene’s DNA,” his lawyer wrote. Warter had run a T-shirt business, a sign company, had worked in the semiconductor industry in California, and now as a property manager around town.

A couple in Apple Valley, California, testified to his good nature in a letter to the court. In their 45-year friendship, Frank and Neita Rodgers said they found Warter to be “an honest, reliable, hard-working individual and a true friend.”

“He has always been there for us in bad times and shared in the good times,” they wrote.

Peter and Lisa Gannon wrote they’d known the man now accused of pimping for 10 years and rented to him for four.

“He’s a nice addition to the neighborhood. He’s always willing and able to help when asked a favor.”

Other letters painted a similar portrait, not that of the typical violent or manipulative pimp.

Court records tell a sadder tale for Mertens. Police became aware of her when undercover detectives answered an online ad and met a prostitute going by the name Megan. She told them Mertens owned the condo with Warter and had convinced her to sell sex.

Mertens told police she’s been hooking for two or three years for Warter. He would post ads for women who were interested in that line of work, and she would meet the applicants at the condo.

Mertens told detectives she had met Warter five years earlier. A presentencing document from a 2014 case said she was working at Cinnful Honey. A couple of years later, she learned about the prostitution and started selling tricks for $120 a time under the name Jersey Jones.

She quit the week in April when Warter was arrested. She began working at a car wash, but in financial records filed with court, she listed no income and monthly expenses of $900.

She did not come from a troubled home, she told court officials before she was sentenced to probation in the 2014 burglary case.

“She had a good childhood, free from abuse,” according to the presentence report.

It went on to describe how, while growing up in Chandler, Mertens experimented with pot at age 13, didn’t like it, but was suspended from high school, where she dropped out in 10th grade. She started using meth daily at age 15 until she got pregnant the first time three years later. At age 17, she experimented with cocaine.

In 2004, at age 19, she got married in Sandy, Utah, to a 40-year-old man. Her first son was born five months later. A second followed in 2006.

At age 20, she discovered heroin.

Still, when she filed for divorce in 2007, a court ordered that she retain custody of both boys.

By 2009, when she was 24, Mertens was shooting heroin and meth every day.

State child welfare agents got involved in 2015 after a neglect allegation. Mertens’ mother took custody of her now three boys, who ranged in ages from 6 to 11.

That was the house she broke into two days after Christmas in 2014. Not to see the kids, but to steal a custom-built skateboard valued at $180 and to shoot up in the master bathroom.

She got probation and ordered to drug court and rehab.

The drugs took over. She couldn’t fight them. Maybe it numbed the pain she had from the “several abusive relationships” she reported having in the past. At any rate, the addiction was so severe, that she was high the day before she went to court to plead guilty in the burglary case.

When she was arrested on the prostitution charge, the case was referred to her probation officer, and, with the three bags of pot found in the Rio Salado Parkway condo, Mertens had violated probation again.

A subsequent report noted that she’d been sober for two months, but relapsed, adding, “many of her relapses involved anti-social peers who encourage her to engage in illegal drug use and anti-social thinking.”

To vice detectives and crusaders against human trafficking Mertens was ripe for exploitation, not as troubled or young as some who trapped in a life of drugs and prostitution, but vulnerable to the lure.

Warter’s attorney took a different view, arguing any incarceration “could be a potential death sentence” for a man in his 70s with a history of strokes.

Wrote Reedy, “He sincerely regrets the decisions he made and understands the collateral consequences of prostitution. The humiliation he has endured and had to explain to his family because of the media exploitation is perhaps the harshest punishment.”

Perhaps.

On January 26, Pimp Floyd is due to surrender to authorities. He’ll exchange his walk-on part in that private war for a lead role in a cage.

He doesn't wish you were here.

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