Special Agent Kurt Remus has seen some bizarre cases in his career with the FBI, but "we were all blown away by the audacity" of four men who were prepared last year to buy and house female sex slaves.
This week, Steven Currence of Montana became the fourth defendant sentenced to a long prison term in the case that exposed the men — including two from Arizona — as ready and willing to subject women to a lifetime of torture, abuse, and labor.
Remus, a squad supervisor in 2013 with the FBI's Phoenix field office, helped start the sting.
It began with the discovery of a Malaysian Internet site that offered women slaves for sale. By paying $600, would-be slave owners were given the ability to enter an auction to be held somewhere in Malaysia. The site was a scam; people who sent the money were defrauded. But the FBI, which had "gained access to the site," discovered that many people in the United States and other countries wanted to buy slaves, Remus tells New Times.
The FBI targeted some of the men who seemed serious about the idea, sending them e-mails and eventually hooking them up with an undercover agent who played the role of slaver. The agent went to lengths to avoid the appearance of entrapping the men or enticing them to do something they "were not predisposed to do," Remus says.
"We'd tell them, 'This is not fantasy, these are humans. If you have any problems with that, get out now,'" he says. That "scared off" many of the would-be buyers. In the end, the FBI was left with four men who ultimately traveled in late 2013 to mid-2014 — money in their pockets — to a home in Paradise Valley where they believed the auction would occur. There, they were each arrested.
A common factor for all four is that each had "done something to secure their home: one-way locks, covered-up windows, restraining devices, chains, sex toys, you name it," Remus says. Numerous pictures of the dungeons and implements the men planned to use against the women were entered as evidence in the case.
Just before their arrests, the men were given one last chance to prove they weren't the cruel, perverted maniacs they seemed to be. The undercover agent let each of the men know that the fictitious female slaves were held in a Phoenix residence, and they were even told the address. Not one of the men called the police to try have the "girls" rescued, Remus says.
Details from the men's plea agreements and sentencing information show:
* Steven Robert Currence of Billings, Montana, was sentenced on Tuesday to seven years in prison, three years' supervised probation, and ordered to forfeit about $14,000.
Currence had responded to an FBI posting about a slave auction that would take place, writing that he was "definitely interested." He agreed to buy two slaves for $5,000 each and told the undercover agent they would "never leave," his plea agreement states. "I'm not looking for love, they're just going to be in here and they're going to be serving."
Remus says the undercover agent visited each man's home to see how they would secure the slaves, telling the men that it wouldn't be good for the slave-merchants if one escaped.
Currence showed off the "stone dungeon" he'd built in the basement of his Billings home. It contained "a heavy wooden cross, whips, chains, restraint devices" and cages. Currence had thought everything through, it seems — he even planned to put plastic coating on windows "so the slaves could not place 'help' signs in the window[s]."
A raid of the home turned up two 50-foot chains in his bedroom, coverings on the windows and the devices in the basement. When he came to Phoenix on May 22, 2014, for the supposed auction, he brought eight u-bolt locks he'd had specially welded to fit the slaves' ankles and wrists for the road trip back to Montana.
* Charles William Bunnell, III of California was sentenced on August 6 to nine years in prison and five years' probation.
Bunnell told the undercover agent or agents that he would keep his slave "hooded and gagged all day long" in a "soundproof box." He obtained a dose of the drug Scopolamine, intending to sedate the slave for the drive to California. But he also made a deal with FBI agents posing as auctioneers: He'd borrow the $30,000 to pay for his slave, then repay the loan by using his hypnotherapy training and Scopolamine to kidnap other slaves that the auctioneers could sell.
He drove to Arizona in early January 2014 and checked into a hotel with a bag containing zip-ties, handcuffs, ropes, and clothing he intended to force the victim to wear. Before his arrest, Bunnell said he'd previously housed slaves in a facility he owned in Nevada.
"I stated that my usual method of 'training' slaves was to insert a speculum into their vagina and convince them that a device had been placed inside of them that would explode if they attempted to leave the facility," Bunnell stated in his plea agreement.
Remus says the FBI could never substantiate Bunnell's claim.
"We certainly pulled out all the stops to follow this and met with negative results," the agent says, adding that Bunnell was previously convicted of assaulting and kidnapping a prostitute 20 years before in southern California.
* Edward Kandl of Tucson was sentenced on May 4 to five years in prison and five years' probation.
Kandl told an agent he would keep his slave chained up to his "therapeutic bed" at his home. He brought $10,000 to the Valley with him in late 2013 for the auction. After his arrest, agents found chains in his bedroom that Kandl had described, coverings on the windows, and a semi-automatic rifle.
* Edward Stevens of Mesa was sentenced on February 9 to seven years in prison, three years' probation and ordered to forfeit $4,000.
Stevens told the FBI that he planned to use his slave for "domestic servitude and sexual purposes," records state. In addition to other homecoming preparations for the woman, he hired a contractor to install bars on his windows and a special door lock. He'd brought $4,000 in cash stuffed in a jacket pocket.
The extensive preparations for the slaves is one reason that prosecutors ended up with such good evidence in the case — and as Remus acknowledges, the undercover agents told the men they should restrain the slaves they were about to purchase. Despite the precautions taken that Remus explained, did some kind of legal entrapment occur in the case?
Stevens' Phoenix-area attorney, Joseph Duarte, says he can't answer that.
Speaking generally, Duarte laments that a sting could catch people who aren't predators and haven't shown they've been a danger to anyone in the past. He added that his client, Stevens, who's in his 60s, never has been arrested for anything before.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.