Jury weighs pimping charges in Placer County

Published: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 - 10:00 am

Roseville contractor Steve Putnam, 48, says he's just a guy who likes to date escorts, one of whom slipped back into prostitution.

His girlfriend, 24-year-old Syla Debra Thongsy, isn't disputing that over the summer of 2010 she was working as a prostitute.

But the lawyers for both Putnam and Thongsy say their clients were not pimping two teen runaways who were living with them, as the Placer County District Attorney's Office is seeking to prove.

"She made poor choices, but she was not pimping," Thongsy's attorney Dionne Choyce told the jury Monday in Placer Superior Court.

Tuesday, after closing arguments from the two defense attorneys and the county prosecutor, the case was handed to the jury. Deliberations are expected to take several days.

Putnam and Thongsy were arrested in August 2010. They are facing nine separate felony charges related to pimping and pandering a pair of Sacramento teens, then 15 and 16 years old. Charges against Putnam include having sex with a minor.

Coincidentally, Putnam happens to own a house on Woodleaf Circle that was rented to a basketball academy founder who has been accused by Roseville police of abusing the students and various financial crimes.

In the pimping case, Placer County Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Macumber asked the jury Tuesday to put the facts together to conclude that Thongsy, with Putnam's help, pimped the teens.

"The defense would like you to believe these are just good Samaritans taking in runaways," Macumber said.

Macumber said the fact that Thongsy paid for motel rooms along a popular prostitution corridor in Sacramento points to the truth.

"You don't take in runaway girls with no money and no clothes and put them on prostitution alley," Macumber said.

Other evidence includes $160 given Thongsy by the girls, a photo of the message "Ladies is Pimps Too," and voluminous text messages between Thongsy and the girls.

Choyce said the evidence doesn't make the case that Thongsy benefited from the relationship (pimping) or that she forced the girls into prostitution (pandering).

"The evidence is overwhelming that she was engaged in prostitution, but not pimping," Choyce said.

Putnam's lawyer, Daniel Nicholson, said the teens lied about having sex with Putnam and were free to come and go from the home.

He said it was reasonable to conclude the teens and Thongsy were "just watching each others' backs" while prostituting at the Sacramento motel.

Putnam said he was under the impression Thongsy was dancing and modeling but had stopped prostituting when she moved in.

"I knew what she was before," he said. "I told her if she quit, I'd commit."

He said Thongsy went back on her word about prostitution, but she was not a pimp.

"I've dated a lot of escorts in my life," he said. "They travel in groups to split costs."

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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