Crime

3 charged in alleged Backpage.com sex-ad robbery scheme

Some men responding to an online ad for “female companionship” got a very different greeting, according to criminal charges filed this week in Madison County courts.

Three people face felony charges of armed robbery alleging that they lured men to a house in East Alton, then robbed them at gunpoint.

It’s been a difficult case to investigate, according to East Alton Police Chief Darren Carlton, because the victims are reticent.

“They’ll never admit they were coming over for sex,” Carlton said. “They’re embarrassed.”

The ads were placed in Backpage.com, Carlton said, which is a Craigslist-style online ad service. While the “adult” system is marked as being censored, they still managed to place an ad with a girl’s picture, Cartlon said. They set up dates with the men over the Internet.

But the men were allegedly greeted by a different young woman than the one in the picture, who led them into the East Alton house. At that point they were faced with a revolver and robbed of money, drivers’ licenses, cell phones and credit cards, according to court records.

“When the guys would show up, they would come into the room and (one of the suspects) would come out of a back room and rob them at gunpoint,” Carlton said.

Three incidents have occurred: two in East Alton and one in Hartford, though Carlton said he’s aware of at least two more incidents: one in East Alton and one in South Roxana. He suspects, however, that there are probably several more cases, but the victims have been too embarrassed to file charges.

Charged were:

▪  Antquello Young, 26, charged with three felony counts of armed robbery, a Class X felony. In one of the charges, it alleged he discharged the firearm. However, Carlton said he is not aware of any injuries occurring during the robberies.

▪  Sierra Holman, 22, two counts of armed robbery. Holman also has an order of protection requiring Young to stay away from her.

▪  Nicholas Gansz, 32, one count of armed robbery without a firearm. His charge alleges he was armed with a knife.

For safety, Carlton said people responding to online ads should be cautious.

“Be very skeptical; even with Craigslist, people can get robbed or shot,” Carlton said. “Do your exchanges in public or at the police department. To go somewhere for sex with someone you don’t know ... I was afraid if we didn’t catch them, they were going to hurt someone.”

In 2015, 19-year-old SIUE student Taylor Clark was murdered while meeting someone to whom he intended to sell his car. Michael Gordon of St. Louis was arrested and charged with Clark’s murder. His trial is still pending.

Several area police departments have set up “online trading” locations in their parking lots, including the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. People who wish to meet up for an online purchase can do so in the parking lot, where they are on camera and close to law enforcement.

Anyone who has information about these robberies is asked to contact their local police department, Carlton said.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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