PROVIDENCE — A Missouri man with a history of sex offenses was held without bail on child sex trafficking charges Friday in connection with the two-day disappearance of a teenage girl from Medfield.
“The case against the defendant is very strong,” Assistant US Attorney Adi Goldstein said during a hearing in federal court.
Stephen Ardrey, 30, of Springfield, Mo., was taken into custody Thursday after he was spotted walking with the teenager in Coventry, R.I. The teenager was reported missing on Monday after leaving the Medfield Public Library with Ardrey, prompting a massive search and an emotional appeal from her family for her safe return.
Ardrey, who prosecutors said has a criminal history, was also charged with transporting a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity. With his hands cuffed in front of him, he showed little emotion as the charges against him were read.
Details of the case were sealed at the government’s request.
The teenager’s parents have described her as a loving, trusting girl who has a hard time making friends and finds it easier to chat with people on the Internet. Her mother said this week that her daughter is “not emotionally a 17-year-old.”
Authorities said Ardrey and the teenager appeared to know each other and had probably arranged to meet. Police did not treat the case as an abduction, but said the nature of the girl’s disabilities, which were not defined by authorities, affected her ability to make safe decisions.
The charges indicated that Ardrey had been with the girl since her disappearance.
Surveillance images that showed the teenager leaving the library with a man wearing a black T-shirt that read “Sons of Anarchy” and “Fear the Reaper.”
If convicted, Ardrey faces a mandatory 10 years in prison and could receive a life sentence.
Prosecutors asked that Ardrey be held without bail, saying he had committed “prior sex offenses” and had no ties to the area. Ardrey waived his right to a preliminary hearing, and his court-appointed lawyer did not seek bail.
In 2007, Ardrey was charged with pimping in Georgia, authorities said. He was fined $500 and credited with time served in prison.
Ardrey was taken into custody Thursday after a passerby recognized him and the teenager from news reports and contacted police.
“This individual’s quick response by notifying law enforcement was paramount to putting an end to the anguish the victim’s family was experiencing not knowing their daughter’s whereabouts,” the US attorney’s office said. “By smartly alerting law enforcement, he furthered the investigation, which led to the arrest and detention of the defendant.”
The teenager’s parents drove to Coventry, about 50 miles from their home, after learning their daughter had been found. In an interview Thursday with Providence station WJAR-TV Channel 10, the teenager’s father said she “seems to be in very good condition, very good spirits. She’s doing well.” They could not be reached Friday.
After she was found, police searched a motel in West Greenwich, R.I., where she and Ardrey are believed to have stayed.
In seeking to have the case sealed, prosecutors asked that Ardrey not be given a copy of the affidavit, which provides details of the case. “The government is not comfortable with the defendant having this document in prison,” Goldstein said.