Former Mount Pleasant businessman charged with sex trafficking a minor, remaining in custody pending trial

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Arguments over whether a former Mount Pleasant businessman facing sex trafficking and child pornography charges is a flight risk were heard in federal court on Friday.

Dawson Caldwell was indicted previously by a federal grand jury on human trafficking, prostitution, and child pornography charges. On Friday, the presiding judge said there is strong evidence that Caldwell led a secret life.

The comments came following audio and video clips that were part of an investigation by Homeland Security, the Hardeeville Police Department, and Child Protective Services. Caldwell is accused of trafficking a 17-year-old from December of 2020 until May of 2021. The situation came to light when the minor was admitted to a hospital by both Caldwell and his co-conspirator, Cedrick Riley, for appendicitis. While with one of the nurses alone, the minor said “I need help”.

According to the Homeland Security agent, the minor referred to Caldwell as her “sugar daddy” and she was his “sugar baby” who in return for commercial sex with him and other clients was provided with funds, crack cocaine, fentanyl, hotel rooms, and shopping trips.

The minor was said to have 10 to 15 ‘plays’ a day with different ‘Johns’ or clients.

The defense argued according to South Carolina law, the 17-year-old should not be considered a minor as the age of consent is 16-years-old.

The prosecution noted that Federal Law states those under the age of 18-years-old are classified as minors for various reasons including their brain development and maturity. The defense went on to say that even if the victim was 18-years old, they would still prosecute Caldwell and his co-conspirator.

In-text messages from Caldwell to the minor presented as Evidence 1 to the court, Caldwell spent more than $50,000 on drugs for the minor’s addiction. It was said he had sexual relations with the minor countless times, but only intercourse twice.

Caldwell’s defense said that the businessman was not a flight risk as he could have fled once his co-conspirator was arrested in May, or when the minor was taken into protective custody. They also stated that the government did not arrest Caldwell at the same time as his co-conspirator as he was taken in five months after the fact. 

The prosecutions said unlike pimps and handlers who are motivated by monetary gain Caldwell, a well-off businessman, was motivated by control, making him a danger to the victim and the community. 

Caldwell’s defense said he has been in his marriage with his wife for nearly 30 years and worked at the same company for 25 years. However, during the federal hearing, Caldwell’s former company, AP Recovery, announced that his resignation as CEO will be effective immediately.

“Though the charges involve personal actions and were unrelated to Mr. Caldwell’s employment, the nature of the conduct alleged is wholly at odds with our values.” “AP Recovery has been in the recovery auditing and compliance business for over 25 years with a motto of ‘Count on People.’ We count on our employees to serve our clients, and, in turn, our employees and clients count on company leaders to adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct.”

Anthony Brush, President/CEO AP Recovery

Caldwell will remain detained at the Charleston County Detention Center pending trial.

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