Two long-haul truck drivers accused of kidnapping women and attempting to force them into prostitution or demanding ransom for their return may have additional victims the FBI is seeking to identify.
Owner-operator Brian T. Summerson, 25, of Dillion, South Carolina, was arrested in January and charged with battery, false imprisonment and tampering with a witness. Owner-operator Pierre Washington, 35, of Chicago, was arrested in March on kidnapping charges. It’s unclear how many alleged victims are associated with these charges.
Summerson is a long-haul driver whose primary route is Interstate 95 from New Jersey to Miami, as well as Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri. When he met potential victims, he allegedly told them his name is “Von” or “Vaughn,” the FBI said in a statement.
The FBI has been investigating Summerson for more than a year after a Tennessee federal judge issued an arrest warrant for the truck driver, who was later arrested in his home state of South Carolina in February 2020 on suspicion of kidnapping the daughter of a Tennessee woman and holding her for ransom.
According to the affidavit, Summerson was later released after posting a $50,000 unsecured bond and was allowed to continue driving a truck. He was authorized to “travel for work within [the] confines of location monitoring,” but was ordered to stay out of Georgia, where the alleged victim lived, and was only allowed to travel to Tennessee for court appearances, according to the conditions of his release.
Washington owns a trucking company called God Got Me, headquartered in Chicago, but his routes were not immediately known, the FBI said.
Elizabeth Clement Webb, public affairs officer with the FBI, told FreightWaves on Thursday that Summerson remains in custody, while Washington was released after posting bail.
The FBI said the investigation has revealed photographs, videos and text communications of additional women on Summerson’s electronic devices and electronic accounts. In its release, possible victims are urged to contact the FBI.
“The purpose of this release is really just to identify victims,” Clement Webb told FreightWaves. “We’ve actually pushed this out broadly, not just throughout the state of Tennessee, but along that whole I-95 route. The FBI takes the priority of those victims very seriously so it’s about being able to get them the resources that they need.”
Summerson’s former boss speaks out
Summerson worked as an owner-operator leased to New Jersey-based Lavantas Logistics until his first arrest in early February 2020, according to company owner Mark Willekes.
“We only found out he had been arrested because he was incommunicado and the GPS showed his vehicle was at a law enforcement facility and we called to find out what was going on,” Willekes told FreightWaves. “Law enforcement initially gave us very little information, and then we finally said, ‘Look, we need to know what’s going on because that’s a truck that’s leased on to us and we need to know because he has a trailer of cargo that we had to execute to the recipient.’”
Willekes said he immediately terminated Summerson’s lease agreement, citing breach of contract, after speaking with the FBI.
Nearly a year after Summerson’s contract with Willekes’ logistics company ended, Willekes told FreightWaves he was contacted by another company “wanting to know where Summerson’s truck was” because he was late delivering his load.
“We said we have no clue, it’s not our truck,” Willekes said. “The company called us to see if we had any knowledge of his whereabouts, and that’s when we found out he had been arrested again for something.”
Clement Webb said she was unable to comment on the ongoing investigation.
According to the grand jury indictment, which was unsealed in April, Summerson’s role was to recruit and coerce female victims into prostitution under Washington’s direction, as well as to extort money from victims’ families in the kidnapping-for-ransom scheme.
Summerson allegedly held the female victims against their will, often physically assaulting them and transporting the victims across state lines, according to the affidavit.
If a victim refused to work as a prostitute for Washington, Summerson allegedly extorted or attempted to extort money from the victim’s family for her return. Court filings claim Summerson and Washington also collaborated on creating and maintaining an online account for ransom payments to be deposited.
The two truck drivers engaged in the kidnapping-for-ransom scheme from June 2019 until late January 2021, according to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.
Alleged victim’s mother contacts FBI
The FBI was first tipped off about Summerson’s possible involvement in the scheme on Jan. 28, 2020, after a woman in Memphis contacted the FBI, claiming her daughter, who lived in Georgia, had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom.
The woman told the FBI that she had received a video call from her daughter, who appeared to have physical injuries to her face, including bleeding, swelling and bruising, and stated that she had been kidnapped because her boyfriend allegedly owed money. The mother said she was told her daughter would be killed if she did not send $2,000 via CashApp as a ransom payment.
The mother was later moved into a conference room at the FBI office in Memphis, where she received another call from the video account demanding money for her daughter’s release. While at the FBI office, the mother received several Facebook Messenger calls stating that her daughter would not be released until she paid the ransom.
Court filings state that the victim’s mother attempted to acquire the ransom but was only able to send $100. She then asked how much money was needed for her daughter to be released and was told $900, but the amount would go back up to $2,000 if she “lied” again about having the money.
The FBI requested subscriber information from CashApp, which eventually revealed that the phone number and email address associated with the account belonged to Summerson. His cell phone service provider then pinged Summerson’s truck being parked in a business parking lot in Florence, South Carolina.
During a wellness check on Summerson at the request of the FBI, which was conducted by the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, deputies heard a female screaming “that she had been kidnapped” from inside a black tractor-trailer. She was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation, according to court documents.
A search of Summerson’s cell phone revealed the possibility of other victims after more women came forward in Maryland and New Jersey.