In the fog of sexual abuse, details of the encounters blur. But what Cassandra, one of six sex workers identified in the affidavit released on Monday, remembered vividly that the Dunning brothers “smelled like cat pee.”
She also recalled that her relationship with Stuart Dunnings emboldened her and other sex workers to believe they were protected from prosecution. Cassandra told her story to City Pulse in August during reporting on her struggle to overcome a heroin addiction. A lack of corroboration kept City Pulse from publishing her allegations about Dunnings.
State and county law enforcement have charged the men with purchasing sexual services from local prostitutes “hundreds of times,” state Attorney General Bill Schuette said Monday. The allegations date back at least five years.
Stuart Dunnings is facing 10 counts of engaging the services of prostitution and four counts of willful neglect of duty. He is also charged with felony pandering, or enticing a woman into prostitution.
The engaging charge is a misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to 93 days in jail and up to $500 in fines for each charge. The willful neglect charges are also misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine. The pandering charge, a felony, carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years. His brother has been charged with two counts of engaging the services of prostitution.
Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth said the “chatter” on the street indicated for years Dunnings was engaging the sexual services of prostitutes. “But it never went anywhere,” he said during a press conference Monday. He said the information often came from prostitutes and drug users lodged in the Ingham County Jail. “They could never put us in touch with someone” who knew first hand, the sheriff said.
That is until a federal investigation and grand jury proceeding last July turned up hard evidence.
Cassandra, the woman who alleges the Dunnings brothers were clients, first told federal authorities about her situation last year. They were investigating a human trafficking ring run by Tyrone Smith, 45, of Lansing. Smith, a convicted murderer, came to the attention of law enforcement when a 17-year-old woman he had been trafficking was found beaten in East Lansing.
During the investigation, which included a federal grand jury in the U.S. court in Grand Rapids, Cassandra told her story over and over, including her claims the Dunnings brothers were regular clients.
Her life with Smith, known as T-Bone on the street, started as Lansing was encased in ice, and the city was plunged into darkness in 2013. Cassandra’s life mirrored this ominous timing.
“Pretty much then I knew that I owed him, you know” Cassandra said of her meeting with T-Bone the night during the ice storm. (Cassandra is a pseudonym.) Owing T-Bone meant doing as told or facing beatings — or worse —- she said. “You didn’t have any choice in anything because then you would get beat up,” she said. “I tried to run away a lot of times, but that ended up getting really scary. So that’s when the threats of him killing me would happen.”
She said she owed Smith because the pimp had provided her a home, and drugs, after the man she was living with was arrested for assaulting her, leaving her on the streets.
She said her relationship with Smith grew to a point that she was his “head bitch,” key to working with the other women and arranging “dates.” He advertised her services and those of other women on Internet sites, and when the Internet tricks were slow, Smith had them walk the Kalamazoo corridor.
Cassandra escaped when she approached Dr. Paul DeWeese seeking relief from her heroin addiction. He treated her, but he has since lost his license and is facing federal and state investigations related to his pain and opioid addiction treatment clinic.
Cassandra continues to struggle with her addiction.
“These victims were brutalized,” Schuette said. “They were imprisoned. It turns the stomach to think that an officer of the law, an officer of the court, the top prosecutor in the capital city was engaging in criminal acts and never tried to stop it.”
Schuette alleged that it was impossible that the Dunnings brothers were unaware of the violence being perpetrated on the women they hired for sex. He said the women would show up for their sexual trysts with bruises on their bodies.
An affidavit filed in the case does not identify the six women with whom Dunnings is accused of engaging in “commercial sex.” It refers to them as W1 through W6.
Detective Amber Kenny-Hinojosa of the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department alleges that one of the women, identified as W-3, had to respond to any and all calls for service.
“W-3 was routinely beaten by her pimp, and throughout the time she had commercial sex with Stuart Dunnings III and Steven Dunnings she had observable bruising on her body,” Kenny-Hinojosa alleges in the “Affidavit in Support of Complaint,” released Monday by the office of the Attorney General. “W-3 also had multiple, visible needle tracks on her arms from heroin use.” Another woman was reported as a crack and heroin user and the pimp “provided” her with these drugs “in exchange for her work.
“Her pimp provided her with drugs in exchange for her work, imprisoned her in his house, and beat her,” the affidavit alleges. “On one occasion, he beat her so severely that W-4 could barely walk and was unable to open her eye for several days. W-4 frequently had bruises on her body that would have been visible to her customers.”
The affidavit alleges that Stuart Dunnings engaged the services of one sex worker at her pimp’s home. During that episode, Dunnings is alleged to have identified himself as the county prosecutor. Another sex worker is alleged to have called Dunnings at his county offices.
The charges against Dunnings have stunned some, in part because of his long record of cracking down on sex workers and their “johns.” He began prosecution of prostitution cases from the city right after he was elected to the prosecutor’s office in 1996. Starting in 1997, he used the power of the courts to take the vehicles of those accused of purchasing sex and sought felony charges for women who had more than two previous prostitution convictions.
Law enforcement pointed out Monday that Dunnings had run a successful prosecution against three sex traffickers just last year. The two men and one woman were found guilty of transporting young women, some of them as young as 14, across state lines for the purposes of prostitution.
“I can’t congratulate and thank those various agencies enough for all the hard work the put into this to put an end to these people that were really exploiting some of our most vulnerable young ladies in our society,” Dunnings told WILX last August.
Yet even as he was working to prosecute those accused traffickers in 2014, he was engaging the services of sex workers, including Cassandra, law enforcement alleged.
Despite his reputation as a tough-onprostitutes prosecutor, Cassandra and other sex workers said they felt a certain impunity from the law as they carried on their work. Those sex workers said they believed that with the high-profile Dunnings brothers as clients, they were immune from prosecution.
Wriggelsworth confirmed that his officers had heard similar claims from those in jail, but had been unable to prove that was the case.
“If we had evidence of it, he would be facing another felony,” he said after a press conference Monday. “This is an ongoing investigation.”
The affidavit filed in the case alleges that Dunnings provided money to help bail a woman out of jail. She was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia by Lansing Police, the affidavit alleges, and Dunnings took money to her mother to help pay the bond.
Hear from Cassandra in her own words in City Pulse's August interview with her.