A former Lansing school teacher who left the district after a jury acquitted him of sexually assaulting a student faces new charges related to the sex trafficking ring that led to former Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III serving jail time.
Jeffrey Jay Howenstine, 60, of Haslett, faces one felony charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution and one misdemeanor charge of engaging the services of a prostitute, court records show.
The charges stem from the investigation into Tyrone Smith, a Lansing man who last year was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison after pleading to three counts of sex trafficking.
Smith eventually told investigators Howenstine was a previous customer, Ingham County Sheriff's Office Detective Amber Kenny-Hinojosa said at a hearing that led to charges against Howenstine.
When confronted by police, Howenstine admitted paying for sex with at least two of the women Smith had trafficked, the detective said. Both of the women are adults, but one of them was a minor in 2014 when the crimes are alleged to have occurred.
The State Journal does not typically identify victims of sex crimes.
Frank Reynolds, an attorney listed in court records as representing Howenstine, did not respond to a request for comment.
Howenstine admitted he knew the women "were victims of trafficking and were afraid of (Smith)," Kenny-Hinojosa said. "The victims told him that Smith imprisoned them, beat them, provided them with drugs, and took all of their money ... he stated that he knew the girls were trapped.”
Howenstine also told the detective he "has a sex addiction," but denied knowing that one of the victims was a minor.
"(Howenstine) admitted when he looked for prostitutes, he looked for the age of 18 to 25 years," the detective said.
Allegations in 2002
A once-popular teacher who led the Otto Middle School band to national prominence, Howenstine in 2002 was acquitted by an Ingham County jury on three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Prosecutors said he urged a 15-year-old girl to perform oral sex in 2000. Howenstine denied the charges.
Two months after the trial, Lansing School District officials paid Howenstine $120,000 to leave his job.
He then spent nine years as a school band director in Melvindale and retired in 2013, according to a report from the Southgate-based News-Herald. Howenstine told the newspaper he planned to start a new career as a driver education teacher.
Indeed, Howenstine would sometimes travel in his driver's education car to meet prostitutes for sex, one of the victims told Kenny-Hinojosa.
Jason Redoutey, who owns Mr. R's Driving School in Haslett, confirmed that Howenstine once worked as a contracted instructor for his business, but said he fired him last year when he learned of the investigation.
"As a person I am (rooting) for him," Redoutey said. "As a business we could not be associated with him."
"He came to me right away," Redoutey said. "I think it was important for (Howenstine) to get it off his chest."
Former Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III was another of Tyrone Smith's clients, officials have said. In 2014, Dunnings had sex in Smith's home with two women who were trafficked, according to court records.
An investigation by federal, state and Ingham County officials eventually determined Dunnings paid at least five women for sex over several years and used the power of the prosecutor's office to force a sixth woman, who was not a prostitute, to let him pay her for sex.
Dunnings was charged with 15 prostitution-related crimes and ultimately pleaded guilty to one count each of misconduct in office, a felony, and engaging in the services of a prostitute, a misdemeanor.
He was released in September after serving 10 months in Clinton County jail.
Howenstine faces up to five years in prison if convicted. Free after posting 10% of a $25,000 bond, he currently awaits trial in Ingham County Circuit Court, with a pretrial hearing set for Dec. 5.
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