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Tracy's World

Inside the wicked web of a Charlotte pimp

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Jenine Lucky, a female driver Ila hired to take prostitutes to appointments, once recognized the 15-year-old in the back seat as a former classmate of her son's. Lucky told the jury she tried to talk the girl out of prostituting herself and even offered to take her home if she wanted to go, but the girl refused. "This is a child," Lucky says she told Ila. The woman quit working for Ila after that but never reported what she had seen to police.

Ila took other chances, too. On several occasions, she picked up underage prostitute Keshia Burris at her mother's house and at the gas station down the street from her father's house. But Ila wasn't out of control like her sons, whose rampages were turning increasingly brutal. Aside from the police record on the pistol-whipping of her niece, Ila managed to attract almost no attention, despite having more women working for her than her sons did.

That may be because her sons pimped according to what Iceberg Slim called the "mack" or "gorilla style," in which women are coerced into selling their bodies through fear and domination alone. Ila instead studied what made prostitution rehabilitation programs successful, and she quickly learned what made the women tick. Because these women receive so little praise or appreciation throughout their lives, certificates of achievement are a key part of rehabilitation programs for prostitutes, who cherish the certificates, even when they're given out for something as simple as making it through a two-day class on nutrition, said Det. Ron Simmons.

So Ila gave out certificates of achievement, too, but in grander style than they'd get at a drug or prostitution treatment center. The girls got steak at company meetings at the Golden Corral, where Ila would present the certificates, often containing misspelled names, to the girls who worked the most hours and brought in the most money.

One of those certificates for making the most money went to Keshia Burris, who had sold her body for the Howard family since she was 15. As the trial wound down last month, Burris told her mother Lisa Burris from her jail cell that she still loved Tracy, that she still wanted to be with him, despite the two miscarriages she'd suffered while taking near-daily beatings from him. But it was Keshia -- the acknowledged "bottom bitch," the most loyal girl in the organization, the girl others described as a "pimp in training" -- who ultimately took down the organization. She wanted nothing more than to be Tracy's girlfriend, but the increasing severity of the beatings she says he doled out drove her to talk to police about the group and the under-aged girls working for it.

This is how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Captain Eddie Levins sees Ila Howard: "Had she never involved her sons, she would probably still be at it." Carrie said she plans to attend Tracy Howard's sentencing, because she wants to see his face when he finds out how much time he'll serve. "Payback," Carrie said, "is a motherfucker."

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