Nicole Benson got her hair done, packed her best clothes, and jumped into her cousin's car. The 24-year-old beauty with a button nose and mocha skin had the January 2006 weekend off from her job as a Navy communications specialist in Jacksonville. She was on her way to Miami for her first modeling audition.
Benson and her cousin checked into a North Miami Beach hotel. At 9 p.m., a talent scout named Antone picked her up and drove her to a beach. He pulled out a video camera and asked her to strip down to a bikini. Then he handed her three shots out of a Bacardi bottle. All she had to do was drink the liquor and deliver her lines for a chance at a hefty modeling contract.
She woke up the next morning in the same car. As Antone dropped her off at the hotel, he told her she had fallen asleep during the audition. It would be more than a year before Benson learned the horrible truth: She had been drugged and raped on camera by two men who later sold the assault as part of a porn series called Miami's Nastiest Nymphos.
But the whole story, uncovered by New Times through records and interviews, is even more nauseating. "Antone," who was actually an ex-Miami Beach cop named Lavont Flanders Jr., should have been in jail long before assaulting Benson and at least seven other victims. Prosecutors flubbed at least two chances to put him away:
• A complaint 15 years ago by a fellow cop that Flanders had tried to solicit her 13-year-old daughter, which resulted in his firing from the Miami Beach Police Department — but no criminal charges were filed.
• A 2007 Broward County case involving at least five victims, including Benson, that stalled and was eventually dropped.
Instead of going to prison, Flanders continued drugging women so his partner could rape them on film. After a Broward judge let him and his accomplice, Emerson Callum, out on bond in 2009, the pair assaulted at least three other women until the feds finally arrested them last year and a jury convicted the two in December on 32 counts related to drugging and raping women.
"They had them, and then they let them out on the street to go back to raping women and selling their videos," says Benson, whose real name New Times agreed not to use because she is a victim of sexual assault. "Why did it take so long?"
Broward prosecutors say they did their best to convict Flanders and Callum and had no choice but to let them go. "I'm not sure anyone dropped the ball," Assistant State Attorney Dennis Siegel says. "People are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They are entitled to bond."
Despite the federal conviction, Flanders's attorney maintains his client's innocence. "These girls knew exactly what they were getting into," Christian Dunham says.
Lavont Flanders Jr. was barely out of his teens when he joined the Opa-locka police force, but he already looked like an officer, with a handsome smile and a cop mustache. A few years later, he applied to work in Miami Beach.
Soon after joining that department, Flanders struck up a friendship with Angela Raines, a records center employee. In an interview with New Times, Raines recalls Flanders saying he had connections in the modeling industry and could help her 13-year-old daughter break in.
On April 2, 1997, Flanders phoned Raines's daughter and asked if she wanted to hang out with his teenage stepsisters. Angela at first insisted on going along, but her daughter convinced her that she was fine.
Flanders drove the girl around Miami Beach in a black Mustang. Then his beeper went off. "It's Jerry of Image Modeling," he said, according to internal affairs records. He told the teen that Image was looking for a young black girl to model for an underwear ad and promised her $200 if she posed for seminude photos.
When the girl repeatedly refused, Flanders drove her home, but not before asking a favor of his passenger: Don't tell your mother about this.
Flanders's charm failed. The girl told her mom about his creepy offer, and five days later, Raines filed a complaint with her bosses. IA investigators sustained charges that Flanders had lied to them and of conduct unbecoming a police officer. He was fired in October 1997.
But prosecutors never filed criminal charges against Flanders, though soliciting a child could have landed him at least five years in prison and a place on the sex offenders list. Miami-Dade state attorney officials say their office had no record of investigating the cop. (Raines says she would have cooperated in a criminal case.)
For Flanders, the incident foreshadowed the modeling scam he would use to entrap women for another decade.
Banned from police work, Flanders took a gig in 2002 with the Transportation Security Administration, patting down travelers at Miami International Airport. He left that job in 2004 and became a county bus driver.
It's not clear when Flanders teamed up with Emerson Callum, a Jamaican porn star called "Jah-T," to drug and rape women. But the two were likely collaborating by July 1, 2004, when the first installment of Miami's Nastiest Nymphos was released.
Flanders spent his free time scouring for aspiring models on websites such as blackplanet.com. That's where he found Benson. Flanders contacted her in January 2006, pretending to be a female talent scout. Then, posing as Antone, he invited her to Miami for a "meet-and-greet."
"It was really professional," Benson remembers. "They had it so planned out, it was ridiculous."
A week later, she returned to the Magic City for her big shot. Instead, she woke up outside her hotel unable to remember anything. Her cousin drove her to Key West for a vacation but had to stop repeatedly — Benson kept vomiting and passing out. "I thought I had gotten drunk and blown my audition," she says.
She was so embarrassed that when Flanders contacted her again to promise another audition, for Hennessy whiskey, she met the con man once more. Again, she sucked down shots and blacked out. This time, Flanders dumped her at her uncle's house in Pembroke Pines.
Benson didn't know what had really happened until October 2007. That's when her boyfriend saw her face on the cover of a DVD being sold on the hood of a car outside a Miami club. Enraged, he brought it home to Benson, who was three months pregnant with their child.
"I didn't do this!" she screamed back at him. "I've never done a pornographic video."
"He didn't believe me," Benson says today. "No one did at first." Her boyfriend moved out.
Soon afterward, though, it looked like prosecutors would finally stop Flanders and Callum. In July 2007, Broward County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested the men and charged them with at least five counts each of kidnapping, sexual battery, and criminal conspiracy. Four other women had told police stories similar to Benson's. One said she had refused to do a sex scene but then passed out, according to court records. She awoke the next morning covered in her own vomit and tested positive for semen and two different date-rape drugs.
When Benson learned she wasn't alone, she went to the Miramar police and filed her own report. She sat in a roomful of cops and watched her own rape. "In the video, I'm pushing [Callum] away or I'm asleep," she says. "He's holding my hands down. My pupils are dilated. I couldn't stand up. The video was evidence."
Benson figured the predator would be locked up for good. But her ordeal wasn't over, because Broward prosecutors botched the case. In May 2009, two years after charges were filed, Judge Andrew Siegel let Flanders and Callum out on bond. Dennis Siegel, the prosecutor, says neither man was considered a flight risk or danger to the community. "I don't have any regrets about them bonding out, because that's the law."
By December 2010, most of the charges against the two men were dropped altogether. Siegel explains his office had trouble contacting victims and proving the rapes occurred in Broward. He later turned over the remaining cases to the feds. "They could do things that we just couldn't," he says.
Whatever the excuse, letting Flanders and Benson out was a mistake that would lead to at least three more rapes, according to their federal indictment. In May 2010, Flanders duped and drugged another victim for Callum. Yet another woman fell into Flanders's trap in February 2011. A last victim was raped in July.
Finally, on August 17, 2011, FBI agents arrested Flanders and Callum. The feds slapped them with 42 combined counts of fraud and sex trafficking. In court, lawyers for the two men argued that the women knew they would be in a porno and must have taken drugs themselves. But a jury convicted the porn star and the ex-cop in December. They will be sentenced February 16 and could spend life in prison. (Both have appealed the conviction.)
Flanders's old MBPD colleague Angela Raines considers her daughter lucky not to have been his first victim. "I'm just grateful," she says. "I had no idea he was such a sick individual."
Benson, meanwhile, suspects Flanders escaped punishment for so long because he's an ex-cop. She remains bitter about the missed chances and is one of three plaintiffs who have filed a civil suit against Flanders and Callum, as well as blackplanet.com, which they say should have done more to prevent the crimes.
(The website denies any culpability. "All allegations against the owners of blackplanet.com are vehemently denied," says Jeffrey Mowers, a lawyer for the company. "We are confident that the case will be resolved in our favor.")
Benson now lives in a small town near Dallas where she works in IT. Her son's father died of a heart attack before they could reconcile, and she is too wary to begin dating again. Seeing Flanders and Callum go to jail doesn't ease the pain of what happened.
"Every day I think to myself: How am I going to tell my son about this?" she says. "I have to tell him about it. He's a boy. He might come across it on his own."