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caption: A woman with the stage name Pearl said she created this artwork in response to the pain Seattle rapper Raz Simone allegedly caused.
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A woman with the stage name Pearl said she created this artwork in response to the pain Seattle rapper Raz Simone allegedly caused.

5 women sue Seattle rapper Raz Simone, 4 say he trafficked them

This story includes potentially upsetting descriptions of sexual violence.

Pearl, a dancer in Las Vegas, had recently left the man she says sex trafficked her. Still, she said, his chokehold remained.

She was back at work, this time at the Palomino Club off the Vegas strip. It was a full-nude joint — a departure from the "upscale" places she was familiar with. She felt a rush of pride and fear returning to the stage. Pride that she had broken free, and fear that he would find her.

caption: Raz Simone, right front, and other activists speak with Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, left, near a plywood-covered and closed Seattle police precinct behind them Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.
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Raz Simone, right front, and other activists speak with Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, left, near a plywood-covered and closed Seattle police precinct behind them Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Seattle, following protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.
Credit: (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“He” was Solomon “Raz” Simone, a Seattle hip-hop artist who she says in a lawsuit sex-trafficked and abused her in Las Vegas for more than a year, ending in 2017. Pearl returned to the club to earn money for a new apartment, she said, somewhere Simone wouldn’t follow her.

When she was with Simone, there were consequences when she didn’t obey him, she said. Simone held her captive for three days within a confined space, a sleeping pod, she said, a half mile north of Seattle Police buildings on Airport Way. She said more than once he forcibly had sex with her and strangled her.

As Pearl danced at the Palomino in Las Vegas, Bill Guyer, a veteran Seattle police detective, looked into Simone. Several women had alleged abuse, and they wanted to talk.

But after four and a half years of waiting, it seemed an investigation, if one existed, was going nowhere. And so five women, including Pearl, filed this civil lawsuit that says Simone harmed them, hoping for some resolution.

Guyer shared his files with the FBI some time between 2020 and 2021, years after speaking with the women. Two things happened around that time: Angelica Campbell filed a protection order, and Simone was captured on video handing a semi-automatic firearm to a fellow protestor.

Simone has repeatedly denied these accusations.

“It’s been a plan they put together years back,” Simone said. “The money’s on the line, and they’re using it like a class-action lawsuit.”

Their lawsuit follows a national trend of survivors using civil courts to hold their alleged predators accountable, when the criminal justice system hasn’t intervened. In the high-profile cases of movie producer Harvey Weinstein and musician R. Kelly, criminal convictions came months and years after their victims filed suit.

The plaintiffs say that Simone targets young, vulnerable women who are involved in sex work or susceptible to it. They said he wins them over with affection, and pitches the relationship as a chance to grow, find success, and be a part of his “family.”

Once persuaded, they said Simone imposed strict rules on what they could eat, and how to act. He placed a money quota on them, pressured them to meet it by stripping or performing sex acts, and took the money they made, they said in the lawsuit. They said Simone used coercion, threats, and violence to make them comply, and used them as fodder for his music.

Simone has repeatedly denied these allegations, in an interview and in a music video he published following KUOW’s initial story. He denied the allegations again, in a letter drafted by his lawyer and sent to KUOW.

“This lawsuit seeks to sue a variety of people and entities in an effort to create a cohesive case but there isn’t one here, and we have no doubt that the case will be dismissed on the merits,” Simone’s lawyer Corinne Mullen said.

RELATED: 2 women accuse Seattle hip-hop artist Raz Simone of abuse, coercion

KUOW reported last year on two of the five women suing Simone, Amanda Branch and Angelica Campbell. They shared their stories after Simone made national headlines as the self-styled leader of the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP. Simone had gained a following through his music, and opened for chart-topping musicians Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in 2016.

Four years later, in 2020, Campbell, a recent arrival from Chicago, went to police after applying for a protection order against Simone. Days passed, then months, with no arrest. A commissioner denied Campbell’s protection order last year, because they didn’t believe Campbell and Simone were in an eligible dating relationship, and Simone had provided “credible evidence” rebutting her allegations.

The plaintiffs each seek $1 million in damages for the pain they said Simone and his associates caused them.

“There’s no dollar amount that can make these women whole again,” their attorney Ellery Johannessen said.

KUOW is not using the full names of two women in this story, due to privacy and safety concerns. Pearl is the stage name for one of the women.

caption: This image is artwork that Pearl said she created in response to the pain she was going through. Featured is a shot of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.
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This image is artwork that Pearl said she created in response to the pain she was going through. Featured is a shot of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.

He flew me from Minnesota to Seattle and within three days, he had me doing forced labor using tactics of love bombing, trauma-bonding, [and] abusive language."

These words were part of Pearl’s July 2017 plea to an Eighth Judicial District Court hearing master in Clark County, Nevada, to approve her protection order against Raz Simone.

An aspiring graphic artist in Minnesota, Pearl met Simone a year and a half before.

A friend shared Simone’s music with her, and she followed him on social media. At the time, she was involved with the local hip-hop scene in the Twin Cities, and did graphic design for album covers and music posters.

Online, Simone posted about a trip to Minneapolis. Pearl reached out, and offered to connect him with other artists in the Twin Cities area.

When they met up, Pearl said Simone said she should make art for his record label, Black Umbrella, in Seattle. After his daily messages, and a promise to pay her 10 times her current wage, she agreed.

When she arrived, Simone took her to a studio apartment in West Seattle. There, he directed her to a loft bed, pulled a gun from his waistband, and placed it next to her head as “he had sex with her,” according to the lawsuit. He bit her chest, it says, leaving bruises.

Hours later, he told Pearl to pack her things, that he had a flight out to Belize — to hurry and not ask questions, the lawsuit says. He told her to get into his white Tesla, and not say anything to the other passenger.

They drove to Portland, Oregon, and Simone checked her into a hotel room at the Eastside Lodge, according to the lawsuit. She would not be joining him in Belize.

“What am I going to be doing? How long are you going to be gone?” Pearl said she asked Simone.

“I'm gonna be gone for two weeks, but tonight, you're going to go across the street and go audition at [the strip club]” Simone said, according to Pearl.

When she realized he was serious, she said she began to cry.

“I told him I've never even pictured myself doing that before,” Pearl told KUOW. “It's not something I want to do, and all of a sudden, he's telling me, ‘No, you have to go.’ And I got scared.”

She feared what could happen to her if she didn’t obey. She also felt shame. Returning home meant facing friends who had sent her off with a going-away party.

Pearl said that as she cried, Simone strangled her.

“Grow up and figure it out,” Simone said, according to the lawsuit.

Pearl didn’t go to the strip club that night. Three days went by as Pearl's money dwindled. All the while, Simone delivered pep talks.

“You're meant to have this experience,” Simone said, according to Pearl. “The Force” – a term Simone has been known to use – “told me that you're supposed to be doing this, and this is gonna make you way stronger. It's gonna make your art better.”

He told her she shouldn’t run home, she said, that she was too old to rely on her parents.

Desperate for money, she started stripping. The first night, she slipped on a pool of her own sweat.

Simone returned to Portland two weeks later, and took the money she made, the lawsuit says. On the return to Seattle, she said he pulled his car over near a field, and ordered her out. He pulled her underwear off, turned her around, and forcibly had sex with her.

A week later, he sent her to live in Las Vegas.

“She was gripped with panic but felt that she had no choice but to comply,” the lawsuit against Simone says.

“In the two short weeks she had known him already, he had strangled her, laid a gun next to her head during sex, stranded her in a foreign city, forced her to strip to survive, and raped her on the side of the road,” the lawsuit says. Pearl “agreed because she feared how much worse the abuse would get if she refused.”

In Vegas, Simone forced himself on her every time he visited, the lawsuit says, and strangled her when she disobeyed his orders. She wasn’t allowed to use hookah or drink alcohol, eat red meat, dairy, processed sugar, or consume drugs. Hot showers were forbidden.

Simone imposed a daily quota of $1,000, she said, and she worked 12-hour daily shifts stripping, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to meet it. She worked longer if she didn’t hit his goal by the end of her shift.

When she stayed late, the lawsuit says she sat in the entertainment lobby shivering in underwear, waiting for customers and already exhausted from working 12 hours in six-inch heels.

In April 2016, Pearl was admitted to the hospital with kidney damage, caused by severe dehydration.

Nevertheless, she returned to the stage.

Pearl spent more than a year in Vegas, stripping and performing sex acts to meet Simone’s quota, she said. She lived in a constant state of fear, the lawsuit says, because Simone had a key to her apartment, where he showed up unannounced.

She felt trapped.

Simone denied these allegations in an interview.

caption: This image is artwork Pearl said she created in response to the pain she was going through. "He took all the money and left me with nothing," the image says.
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This image is artwork Pearl said she created in response to the pain she was going through. "He took all the money and left me with nothing," the image says.

N

abila was 21 and pursuing a nursing degree at a community college in Minnesota. She called her friend Pearl, who reported she was thriving in Las Vegas. Nabila wanted to visit. Pearl told her she needed Simone’s permission first.

Simone and Nabila connected by phone, the lawsuit says, and they spoke about her aspirations. The next day she was on a flight to Las Vegas.

Nabila asked that KUOW not use her full name over privacy concerns. Nabila said she joined the lawsuit in the hope that Simone gets “committed for what he’s done.” She said she would testify against him in criminal court.

“The women still trapped in it need some guidance that shows them maybe he’s not what they think he is,” Nabila said. “Maybe they’ll think to themselves they have a chance to leave, and they’ll take it.”

On the night that Nabila arrived in Las Vegas, Pearl was working at the club, so Nabila spent time with Simone.

He asked her about her plans and her goals. Nabila wanted her own business, and to one day start a family. According to the lawsuit, Simone said that all “girls need help in some way” and asked her to join his “family.”

Nabila and Simone had sex, the lawsuit says. Simone reassured her that Pearl would want it to happen and would want Nabila to join the family. Simone asked if Nabila would give herself to him completely. She said “yes.”

Then Simone explained the family creed — loyalty, respect, and your word.

A week later, Nabila returned home to pick up her birth certificate. She needed it to get her license to strip.

Back home, she reassured her Somali family, who were culturally and religiously conservative, that she would be fine. They learned she was moving across the country to live with a man she hardly knew. She lied and said she was going to work for a Seattle real estate broker.

After returning to Las Vegas, Simone put her on a flight to Seattle, the lawsuit says.

In Seattle, Nabila said she was trained by another woman, a defendant in the lawsuit against Simone and his associates.

The woman allegedly listed out the same rules she’d heard Pearl recite.

No hookah.

No alcohol.

No red meat.

No dairy.

No processed sugar.

No drugs.

Also:

No spending money without Simone’s permission.

No going out or going anywhere without Simone’s permission.

Check in with Simone about your whereabouts at all times.

Nabila was first forced to strip at Dream Girls at Rick's in north Seattle, the lawsuit says. When Simone picked her up from work, he asked Nabila to see the money she made. He held out his hand and took the $300 she earned, without another word.

He moved her to Las Vegas, where she worked 12 to 15 hour shifts daily. She texted Simone any time she changed location, the lawsuit says. And Simone would repeatedly return to Las Vegas, have sex with Nabila, take her money, and leave. If she didn’t obey, she would face punishment.

She once explained her life in Las Vegas to a close friend.

“Can I tell you something?” the friend said. “It sounds like a cult.”

Nabila said she didn’t completely understand why.

“I could get the dynamics of one leader, people following him, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” she said. It clicked for her later, when the women in Simone’s circle remained devoted despite allegations surfacing against him.

She said one woman frequently called Simone a god.

The lawsuit describes that for the next year, Nabila was subjected to violence and terror.

According to the lawsuit:

  • Simone forced Nabila to get her passport photo without her hijab, the traditional head covering of her Islamic faith. And because she felt it was “necessary to appease” Simone, she went on birth control.
  • On a flight back to Las Vegas, Simone told Nabila, who was seated near a window, that she wasn’t allowed to use the restroom. He said if she trusted him, she would do as he said and hold it. She pleaded. He refused. Nabila urinated on herself mid-flight.
  • One night, after Nabila said she used alcohol and cocaine, Simone grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the bathroom wall. She went unconscious. When she woke up, he turned the bathroom faucet on, and forced her face under the running water, while also forcing intercourse. The force of Simone caused Nabila to slam her head against the bathroom mirror. She said she thought she was going to die.
  • Another time, after she texted another woman who worked for Simone, Simone strangled her. “Shut your big ass mouth, bitch,” he said, according to the suit. “Learn to follow directions.” He locked her in a sleeping pod for a day. When he returned, he asked her who she belonged to. She replied with the conditioned response: that she belonged to him.

In June 2017 she fled, only to return a month and a half later. She said Simone began to show affection, “love bombed” her, and she thought Simone had changed. He hadn’t.

Weeks later she said Simone forcibly had sex with her. Beat her. Slapped her. Had his hands around her neck so hard that the blood vessels in her eyes popped. Her natural hair was falling out, she said in the lawsuit, because Simone pulled so hard on her weave.

She left again two months later, this time for good.

Simone denied these allegations in an interview.

caption: Artwork that Pearl said she created in response to the pain she was going through.
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Artwork that Pearl said she created in response to the pain she was going through.

P

earl’s mental health declined, in part because of what Simone had done to her friend Nabila, she said. She was depressed and thought of suicide.

In March 2017, Simone flew Pearl back to Seattle. According to the lawsuit, Simone “punished her by forcing her to stay in a sleeping pod” located at Black Umbrella headquarters on Airport Way.

caption: This photo shows an image of a sleeping pod Pearl said she was held captive in.
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This photo shows an image of a sleeping pod Pearl said she was held captive in.

Simone berated Pearl for complaining about her life and threatened to put her “on the track,” slang for the streets where sex workers walk.

Three months later, no longer fearing death, she stood up to Simone. In the heat of their phone argument, Pearl threw and broke her cell phone, putting a pause on calls and texts from Simone.

“His psychological grip on me lifted almost instantly, like a miracle,” she said. “I woke up, and I felt like my spirit came back to me. I felt like I was (Pearl) again, and I immediately went into action.”

Pearl researched sex trafficking, identified herself as a victim with signs of Stockholm Syndrome. She asked her building management to change the locks on her apartment, and told them Simone was not welcome there.

She emailed Simone, and said things were over. Soon he showed up at her apartment, Pearl said. When the front desk wouldn’t allow him to go up to Pearl’s unit, he gained access behind a vehicle entering the parking garage. He pounded on her door. She called security, and they escorted him out.

Following the encounter, Simone sent Pearl “veiled threats” in emails and on Twitter, she said. She responded at first, but then stopped.

It was around this time that Pearl reconnected with Nabila and got in contact with two other women who had left Simone, and who had similar stories.

Their accounts, and the danger she believed Simone posed, pushed Pearl to file the protection order against Simone in Las Vegas. In the summer of 2017, things began to turn around: The hearing master granted her wish.

Women came forward to Seattle detective Bill Guyer about Simone in 2017, according to records provided to KUOW.

Guyer was a vice cop who had participated in national stings to arrest people suspected of trafficking children. His personnel file is filled with congratulatory messages from prosecutors and law enforcement leaders for his police work.

After multiple interviews and weeks had gone by, Guyer told them he needed more evidence, records show. That as adults, it was hard to convince a jury that a man forced them to do something against their will, he told one of the women.

Although the women suing have left Simone, they say the effect of his abuse lingers.

But they are empowered by a sort of sisterhood of solidarity they have formed by confronting Simone. Perhaps law enforcement hasn’t produced results, they say, but they refuse to give up.

Their stories, they hope, bring awareness to trafficking.

It’s everywhere, Pearl said.

“It could happen to anyone. No one ever expected it to happen to me.”


Resources for victims and survivors of abuse:

Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN): 800-656-4673 // Hotline and/or online chat with trained staff