The Prince George's County Department of Social Services approved a pimp to be the guardian of a 12-year-old girl three months after he started selling her for sex on the streets of Washington, court documents show.
Shelby Lewis has pleaded guilty to taking four girls from his Temple Hills home to D.C., where he made them to sell their bodies and then turn the cash over to him. Lewis has been jailed pending his March sentencing in D.C.'s federal court. The 42-year-old faces 15 to 20 years in prison.
Lewis admitted to starting his pimp business in March 2006. The first girl he sold for sex was a 12-year-old referred to only as "S.H."
In June 2006, Lewis "was officially permitted to serve as the guardian of S.H. by the Prince George's County Department of Social Services and her custodian, her paternal aunt, Gloria Sockwell," federal prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Sockwell did not return calls for comment Friday.
Calls to Prince George's County social services were returned by Elyn Jones, a spokeswoman for Maryland's department of human resources, the umbrella agency that oversees the county social services department.
Jones denied that Prince George's County approved the guardianship and said the county was not aware of S.H. until 2007.
Lewis admitted to pimping S.H. through August 2008.
Jones said it's "standard operating procedure" to conduct home visits and run criminal background checks before someone is granted guardianship. The criminal checks, however, only reveal if the potential guardian has been convicted of a crime.
Maryland court records show that Lewis has been repeatedly arrested on charges ranging from theft to assault over the last 20 years, but in every case the charges were dropped.
He was most recently arrested in July 2007 on false imprisonment charges, records show. Those were dropped when the victim stopped cooperating with law enforcement officials, a spokesman for the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office said.
"We need to be able to get the information about this case to make sure it doesn't happen again," said Matthew Fraidin, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia who has taken on the foster care system. "We have to learn from our mistakes and triumph."