Down the rabbit hole 

Richard Carpita was looking for money. He already had the girls.

Page 4 of 4

McDermott was talking about charging clients.

The 12 convicted johns in the Carpita-Brazington case range in age from 21 to 53, with a mean age of 36. Among the convicted were a North Side mechanic, a former manager of the now-closed Finnegan's Family Restaurant, a clerk at Noon's, and a Higgins Avenue-based attorney. The typical sentence ranged from a fine of $340 to $500, with a six-month suspended jail term.

Marks, the prosecutor, believes there are more johns who will never be convicted: "We charged 12 guys, and those were the ones we had enough evidence on, meaning we could identify who they were," he says, adding that he believes Carpita and Brazington "did a lot more."

In an interview with a detective from the Missoula Police Department, one of the young prostitutes estimates she worked for Carpita 70 to 80 times and for Brazington about 30 times. In the interview she describes johns who do not fit descriptions of men who were charged, including a Linda Vista resident whom she referred as "the Griz Guy"; she suspected he was a University of Montana football coach, though detectives did not corroborate this.

Asked if prostitution is still promoted in Missoula on Craigslist, Marks and McDermott say that's likely. Carpita is more confident, saying, "Absolutely...There are a lot of men out there who have money and are willing to pay for sex."

"I just don't think people realize this kind of stuff happens in Missoula," Helen Smart says. "But it does."

Born in 1992, Smart was the oldest of the four girls who worked for Carpita and Brazington. The youngest was born in 1994. During testimony, all of the johns said the girls represented themselves to be in their early twenties. Carpita admits he knew they were young, but, he adds, "They weren't little kids."

In interviews with law enforcement, all the girls said they worked of their own free will. Smart says she was living a "hollow existence" when Carpita propositioned her the night in the trailer in East Missoula. "For a long time my role had been partying," she says. "It was intriguing."

click to enlarge Richard Carpita - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

After prosecuting the johns and pimps, Marks says the court was mainly concerned with finding help for the girls. "They are considered victims, even though no one put a gun to their head," he says. "With adults, there's a very clear punishment aspect, but with kids, our primary goal has to be to find them help—though I'm not sure that we did." The court made St. Patrick Hospital's First STEP Resource Center available to the girls. Marks doesn't think any of them took advantage of the services.

Smart was the final girl who agreed to work for Carpita and Brazington. She estimates she did about a dozen jobs, roughly five of them with the same North Side client, who paid her $150 to both give and receive oral sex. Of all the men she met with, she says, he was the only one who made her feel in danger: "I was his possession. I was worried he might never let me go."

'The atomic bomb'

Smart says she was once a "social butterfly" whom "everyone called to find out where the party is." Today, she has trouble leaving her home. She avoids crowded places and dreads simple errands like grocery shopping. "I just feel like everybody is looking at me," she says—"like they all know who I am. It feels like I'm walking around naked."

The month Smart started high school, a local paper ran a story about her school's efforts to help incoming freshmen adjust to high school life. When the reporter asked Smart if she thought the school's efforts were helpful, she replied, "I hope so. I don't want to be all by myself. It's just scary...I didn't even realize that many kids lived in this town. I'm very intimidated but I'm very glad I'm here."

A year after her last job as a prostitute, Smart sits on a loveseat in her mostly empty apartment in south Missoula and tries to recall how it all happened. She says she doesn't have regrets, and that she's learned a lot from her mistakes, including the "atomic bomb" that fell on her last year. Now, she says, she's found peace and a reason to do better: She recently became a mother. Though her pregnancy wasn't planned, she's sure that the father is a man for whom she cares deeply and not one of the men who paid her for sex in 2010. Asked what she's learned since Missoula's Craigslist prostitution ring was busted, her answer comes quickly: "I can honestly say [my son] saved me."

Throughout the interview, Smart seems articulate, thoughtful, and self-aware in ways that belie her 19 years. She exudes a sort of micro-omniscience, as if she somehow had extra time to think about every question. Every question, that is, save for one: Asked what scares her most, her eyes widen and she appears surprised by a sudden upwelling of feeling. She lifts a hand from her infant son's chest to wipe her eyes.

"I'm scared that I'm going to end up alone," she says. "It's kind of scary realizing too that I'm going to have to start all over again."

Then she seems to collect herself. She returns a hand to her son and paves the trembling in her voice. "That's the bright side, though. No one will know me."

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