Prosecutors, who declined to comment but have detailed their case in hundreds of court documents filed in Baltimore and in Texas, describe Shelby Smith as an integral part of the alleged trafficking organization.
The prosecutors in Baltimore and El Paso said she helped keep other women in line as they traveled from motel room to motel room, strip club to strip club, through Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Illinois.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clinton J. Fuchs argued in a Baltimore courtroom that Shelby Smith should be incarcerated until trial, saying she, like the victims, danced at strip clubs and turned her money over to the alleged leaders, but also enjoyed a spot in the hierarchy as the ringleader's girlfriend. Wiggins' attorney in Texas did not return repeated inquiries seeking comment.
Fuchs said Shelby Smith's title was "Bottom girl for Mr. Wiggins" and that she and four other women charged in the case "assisted those leaders of the organization in directing and monitoring other victims … ensuring their obedience ... and preventing them from escaping the group." He also wrote that Smith "shared in the proceeds of the conspiracy."
But Smith's attorney in Texas, Richard D. Esper, said he plans to argue at trial, scheduled for January, that no one was trapped in an organized human trafficking ring. He said, if anything, his client acted "more like a spy" than an enforcer, and he noted the blond's petite, 5-foot 3-inch stature.
"I think all these girls who are purported victims were there voluntarily, and wanted to engage in topless dancing and prostitution," Esper said. "I would dub it as the underbelly of society, but these girls weren't lured into that type of life. I think they were already engaging in it."
Shawn Smith said her daughter met Wiggins in Baltimore Highlands, where they both grew up, living around the corner from each other near her home on Conkling Street, north of Canton. Back then, Smith was a straight-A student, her mother and attorney said.
She graduated from what was then Southern High School in 2004, in the top 5 percent of her class, and earned a scholarship but joined the Army instead. After basic training, she made her way to Fort Polk, La.
A pregnancy cut her military career short and she was honorably discharged in 2006. She returned to Baltimore, where, her mother said, she got reacquainted with Wiggins.
Much of Shelby Smith's background was released in court in unsuccessful attempts by her attorneys in Baltimore and El Paso to free her pending trial. Twice, federal judges agreed to send her home or to a halfway house, but then changed their minds after prosecutors presented new information.
Her latest child is a complicating factor. The defendant was six months pregnant when she was arrested in Baltimore, sparking rounds of courtroom debate about whether to move her to Texas, let her stay jailed here or release her on home detention.
The court decided it was unsafe for Shelby Smith to fly, and a three-day cross-country bus trip with the U.S. Marshals Service, involving 70 stops, was equally questionable. Smith delivered her child on Dec. 29 under police guard at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was then flown to Texas. The infant is in foster care, Shelby Smith's attorney and mother said, but there are custody disputes involving Wiggins' family.
Now, from her jail cell, Shelby Smith describes her predicament in poems posted to an Internet site that invites feedback from readers.
About her life now:
"I have pain; Sorrow, and fears; I don't know what to do; I don't know what to say; I can't seem to do this any other way; All I know to do is cry; And let just the tears go by."
She wonders why her family can't accept her devotion to the father of three of her children:
"I don't get it; Why don't they get it; I'm hurting; I need help; I call the best name of all; And He gets it; He knows; He understands; He helps; That's why He's here."
Shawn Smith remembers her daughter the altar girl, the proud student with stellar grades, the graduate with a scholarship, the enlisted private in the Army. The mother does not want to remember her daughter dancing on The Block.
"It's horrible," Shawn Smith said. "I know what she could have been."