Tawnney Caldwell and five others were federally indicted for the August 2017 death of Robert Caldwell, 35, who was shot in front of three of his sons.
Tawnney Caldwell and her boyfriend Sterling Roberts could face the death penalty if they are convicted in federal court. Their cases — along with those against other family members — are pending in federal court.
The convoluted tale also involves the disappearance of Jacob Caldwell, one of the teen boys who saw his father killed in a Riverside parking lot. Jacob was found about a year later in a Miami Twp. home but also was housed in a Washington Twp. house lived in by Thomas, according to court filings.
News Center 7's John Bedell talked to a local psychologist about the road ahead for 15-year-old Jacob Caldwell and his family now that he's been found more than a year after he went missing following witnessing his father's murder.
The search warrant return shows the seizure of $640,000 from the sale of the home at 9397 Ridings Blvd. in Washington Twp. owned by Helms and Thomas. It also describes alleged activity first reported by this news organization in September 2018.
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An FBI special agent wrote that there was probable cause that Helms and/or Thomas committed violations of the Mann Act (interstate illegal sexual conduct), money laundering, conspiracy, tax evasion, filing a false tax return and failure to file a tax return.
Since 1987, Helms has been the chairman and CEO of AEC, a Redford, Mich.-based business offering metal stampings for customers in the home hardware, medical, electronics and food industries, the document said.
In September 2018, Helms’ county civil suit attorney Edward Plato called Thomas’ allegations “ridiculous and frivolous” and that Helms denied paying Thomas for escort services.
This week, Plato said he was aware of the seizure warrant for the proceeds from the Ridings home, but not of the possible criminal charges.
FBI special agent Kenny Howard wrote that Helms paid Thomas nearly $2.5 million between 2007 and March 2016 in exchange “for her interstate travel to Michigan to engage in illegal sexual activity.”
Howard wrote that Helms and Thomas engaged in money laundering with the proceeds of Helms’ payments “in order to conceal or disguise the nature, source and ownership of the proceeds and to promote the carrying on of the illegal activity.”
The complaint said a sham LLC — R Boulevard Properties, LLC — was created to conceal or disguise the couple’s monetary transactions such as the paying off of Thomas’ Porsche and her daughter Staci’s Mercedes.
Howard wrote that Thomas didn’t claim any of $2.5 million from Helms on her tax returns.
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“The only thing I can tell you is from George Helms’ standpoint, that any money he put into the LLC was after-tax money” Plato said Wednesday, “so there was certainly no reason to seize his portion of the proceeds.”
The federal complaint also said Jacob Caldwell was found in the residence of one of Thomas’ employees at Jan’s Grooming, a Centerville pet business. It also said there is probable cause that Helms paid Thomas $30,000 per month from November 2013 through March 2016, a month after Helms’ wife filed for divorce in Michigan.
Under the name “Discreet Lee,” Thomas’ escort web page advertised her services as “so much more than the GFE (girlfriend experience)” and which the FBI agent wrote “that means sex.”
The complaint said Thomas’ services were available only to men and cost $550 per hour or $1,000 for two hours.
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The document included a summary of a February 2009 sting by Columbus police during which Thomas was arrested for solicitation and prostitution after grabbing a “detective’s genitals for sexual gratification for $550.”
Howard wrote that in January 2010, Thomas pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of disorderly conduct.
Helms sued Thomas in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court to dissolve the LLC and sell the Ridings property. In his complaint, Helms’ attorney wrote that the LLC “was formed for the purpose of acquiring, developing and/or managing real property.”
Thomas counter-sued, contending that she was an escort and that the LLC was a way for her to get paid for her “love nest” or that it was a gift. That lawsuit is ongoing, according to county court records. Plato said the sides were “close” to a resolution.
The home was sold in December 2018 for $790,000, with $640,352.75 being seized by federal investigators, according to the search warrant return. Plato said the difference went to Realtor fees, back property taxes and attorney fees.
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The complaint includes alleged text messages from Helms to Thomas such as a Sept. 21, 2013, communication that said, “What are you doing today? No Rolls yet had to put it on hold while [I] buy my lover a house!!!!”
The FBI agent wrote that Tawnney Caldwell had her own escort website under the name Chrissy Lane and copied Thomas’ ads nearly verbatim.
Among other items written by the FBI agent in the 36-page document, some quoted from a hearing regarding Jacob Caldwell:
• Tawnney Caldwell has two daughters with Sterling Roberts.
• Federally indicted co-conspirator Chandra Harmon, Thomas’ sister, used to be an escort and showed Thomas her website years ago.
• Thomas makes about $50,000 per year at Jan’s Grooming, but she was evicted from her Social Row residence when her rent check bounced.
MORE: Read other stories from Mark Gokavi
• Thomas did not file taxes with her escort income from 2008 to 2017 and she got paid in cash at the start or end of a job.
• Thomas used a WIC card to buy baby formula for Tawnney’s daughter.
• Thomas’ daughter Staci said earned $50,000 in 2018 for Jan’s Grooming’s payroll and management duties. The document said Staci could not give any details on grooming charges, client numbers, if they have receipts, what documents go to accountants for taxes, how much money was earned or deposited in 2017, how much the employees make, their schedule or their last names.
• Helms referred to Thomas as his “Pretty Woman.”
• Helms did not report any of his alleged payments of $1,709,876.41 as a gift to Thomas. One of Helms’ alleged texts said: “If putting money in the LLC is an issue, we can pay it directly! I am worried that it might create a gift tax for me!”
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