Warning: This report contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault allegations.
Sometime in 2017, Mary left her home in rural Thailand and traveled more than 3,000 miles to Bahrain to work as a prostitute.
The 5-foot-3-inch woman had just turned 18 when she began roaming the bars and clubs outside of Naval Support Activity Bahrain, looking for U.S. sailor clients.
Court records indicate that Mary might have found a path to marriage and a new life in America after she met a Navy petty officer who developed a soft spot for her.
“I want to marry you,” Aviation Support Equipment Technician 2nd Class Dennis Mullens told her in 2017, according to text messages later entered into Navy court records.
“You are always there,” he texted her. “I know I am not perfect…but you are always there.”
As their relationship deepened, court records show that Mary continued to work as a prostitute ― a line of work that troubled Mullens.
“I am with the customer,” Mary texted Mullens in October 2017. “What about visa?”
“Don’t talk to me when you are with customer,” Mullens replied.
“Why?” she asked.
“I don’t want to know,” he told her. “It’s not easy for me anymore.”
Mullens later said he wanted to build a life with Mary if she would only leave prostitution behind.
“I was like, don’t tell me about your customers,” he testified at a 2018 trial involving a Navy chief charged in a wave of sex crimes prosecutions against sailors in Bahrain.
“Don’t tell me about that life you have unless you’re ready to stop doing it,” Mullens said. “And then we’ll pursue this visa stuff because I wanted to give her a better life.”
“That’s the truth.”
But in September 2017, Mary’s life in Bahrain took a dark turn.
That month, she and another Thai woman told Navy authorities they both had been brutally raped by a Navy chief.
A third woman would come forward with the same allegation against the same chief in October.
Mary’s story, and the details of her life in Bahrain outlined in hundreds of pages of court records obtained by Military Times, emerged in the course of sprawling Navy investigations into sailors accused of sex trade-related crimes outside the headquarters of the Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Mullens declined to comment for this story.
Mary is a pseudonym. Military Times does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault. She could not be reached for comment.
“She tried to run away"
According to Navy court records, Mary told Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents that she met the Navy chief who allegedly assaulted her in one of the bars that dot the Juffair section of the capital Manama, where dance floors swirling with sailors and prostitutes were well-known venues for setting up sex-for-money transactions.
At the time, Mary was working for another Thai prostitute named Lin Raiwest, who was known in the local commercial sex trade as a “mamasan" and played a role similar to a pimp — managing a stable of prostitutes whom she trafficked, protected and profited from.
Mary’s mamasan brought her to NCIS agents to report the chief’s alleged assault. Raiwest was very familiar with NCIS: The mamasan had been a confidential informant for NCIS since 2014 and was known in its files by her code name, MEBJ-1580.
Raiwest helped translate for NCIS agents as Mary recounted the alleged assault using her native Thai language, according to court records.
Mary had met the chief on the night of Sept. 12, 2017, at Wrangler, a local club known for bringing prostitutes and sailors together, according to an NCIS summary of agent interviews with the woman.
She and the chief had haggled and agreed on a price of 50 Bahraini dinar, which was about $145 at the time, according to the summary.
The chief had driven Mary back to his off-post residence.
Once inside, they engaged in small talk, the NCIS summary states. They soon began having “consensual vaginal intercourse” in a spare bedroom.
Suddenly, Mary later told investigators, the chief turned her around “and penetrated her anus without her consent,” according to the NCIS record.
“(Mary) said no and she tried to run away, but (the chief) grabbed her hair to restrain her and pressed her face into the pillow to stop her screams,” the summary states.
When the chief finished, Mary told the agents, she dressed in the bathroom and they both left his apartment so he could give her a ride back.
As they waited near the elevator, the chief said he had to go back to his apartment to grab a shirt, according to the interview summary.
But when the chief went back in the apartment, he locked the door. Mary rang the doorbell, but the sailor did not answer, according to the NCIS summary.
The woman didn’t know where she was and had to drop a location pin to her mamasan’s phone. Raiwest came in a taxi to pick her up, according to NCIS.
Mary was “crying and reported being in pain" when Raiwest arrived, the summary states.
Mullens, the petty officer who had texted his desire to wed Mary that year, later testified in 2018 at a separate trial that Mary at some point told him “in detail what happened," but she didn’t ask him to do anything about it.
Two other prostitutes, at least one of whom also worked for Raiwest, alleged very similar sexual assaults by the same Navy chief in the fall of 2017, according to court records.
Raiwest helped translate for the women, who spoke little to no English, as they recounted their alleged sexual assaults for NCIS, according to records and a video of the interviews obtained by Military Times.
Mary and the two other women identified the chief in a photo lineup of five other “similar males.” Two of the women were confident in the identification, while a third prostitute was only 50 percent sure, according to NCIS records.
NCIS agents tried to get rape examinations for Mary, but Navy medical officials refused because she was neither a U.S. service member nor a dependent, according to court records.
Some of the women claimed injuries from the assaults.
“Did you go to the doctor?” an NCIS agent had asked.
“We don’t go to the doctor,” Raiwest said.
Raiwest told agents the women had feared coming forward.
“That’s why nobody ever say anything,” she said. “That’s why he think (sic) he can do all this to anybody.”
At one point, one of the chief’s accusers handed her phone over to an agent, and the agent asked which name the chief’s phone number was listed under.
“Scary,” Raiwest replied.
‘NCIS are about to get him’
NCIS ultimately identified the chief accused of sexually assaulting the prostitutes as Chief Logistics Specialist Calvin Halfacre.
After an investigation, sexual assault and other charges were filed against Halfacre ― a 42-year-old husband and father who was on an unaccompanied tour to Bahrain.
Agents brought Halfacre in for questioning on Oct. 6, 2017.
Halfacre, who records show had been a sexual assault prevention and response coordinator at a previous command, invoked his right to stay silent and asked for an attorney.
His civilian defense attorney, Phillip Cave, denied the allegations in court filings.
Cave suggested Raiwest was extorting Halfacre.
Both Mullens and another enlisted leader, Chief Logistics Specialist Earl McLaughlin, later faced charges of obstructing the NCIS investigation into Halfacre and were accused of helping him attempt to pay off the prostitutes to drop the charges.
A charge against Mullens was later dropped in exchange for his testifying against McLaughlin, who was acquitted by a military jury in December 2018.
Mullens instead received non-judicial punishment, according to court records.
At one hearing in the Halfacre case, Halfacre’s defense attorney wondered why NCIS couldn’t find another translator and suggested that Raiwest had a conflict of interest since she was already an informant for NCIS.
“She knows NCIS is very interested in this and that may well help establish her relationship with NCIS,” Cave argued in court records. “They will allow her to practice her own prostitution in Bahrain uninterrupted or unaffected by either NCIS, or more importantly, the Bahraini authorities.”
Cave also questioned the trustworthiness and motivations of Raiwest and said she did not qualify “as a sufficiently neutral and independent interpreter.”
Bahraini authorities did not respond to several requests for comment on the island’s sex trade or the allegations involving U.S. sailors.
By October 2017, text messages entered into court records show Mullens texting others about the case.
“Bro these girls found that chief about to fuck him up,” Mullens texted a friend that month, according to court records. “NCIS are about to get him.”
“Damn that’s crazy,” the friend replied. “Did the girls call NCIS?”
“Kaylina got so many connections on base,” the petty officer noted, referring to Raiwest by one of her aliases. “She got all the girls he raped to talk to NCIS.”
‘Doing a lot of crazy stuff’
As Halfacre’s day in court neared, Navy prosecutors lost track of Mary and one of the other accusers, according to court records.
Raiwest had also promised to testify against Halfacre but fell off the Navy’s radar and was unavailable to testify in Halfacre’s trial, which was held in Naples, Italy.
The third accuser had since returned to Thailand to care for her ailing father but was willing to return to Bahrain as of November 2018, according to court records.
It’s unclear how the Navy lost track of the women and why the Navy never brought the fourth woman back from Thailand to testify.
Ultimately, Navy officials offered Halfacre a plea deal, which dropped the sexual assault charges. He signed the deal in January 2019, which resulted in him pleading guilty to three counts of patronizing a prostitute, one specification each for Mary and the two other women who accused him of rape, according to court records.
Navy officials declined to comment on why they offered him a plea deal rather than pursue the initial charges at court-martial.
After pleading guilty in a Navy courtroom, Halfacre told military judge Capt. Arthur Gaston he had been going through a difficult time in his life, according to court records.
“I got to Bahrain, I started doing stuff that I normally wouldn’t do,” he said. “In Bahrain I was able to drink more than I ever have and going out, doing a lot of crazy stuff and trying to deal with it.”
The chief noted that “they know me around most of the bars in Bahrain.”
Navy prosecutor Lt. Sterling Spencer argued that such behavior wasn’t expected of sailors, “let alone a chief petty officer.”
“Chiefs are supposed to be setting the example,” she said. “Instead, he was out publicly associating with prostitutes at major bars that other sailors or junior sailors attended.”
Halfacre was sentenced to 30 months in the brig, a bad-conduct discharge, automatic reduction in rank to E-1 and forfeiture of all pay and allowances during confinement, Navy spokesman Lt. Tim Pietrack told Military Times.
He is doing his time in the Navy brig in Chesapeake, Virginia, and did not respond to letters seeking comment sent to him by Military Times.
His attorney, Cave, said he is appealing Halfacre’s sentence. That appeal focuses on the judge’s consideration at sentencing of a victim impact letter from one of Halfacre’s accusers who had returned to Thailand but agreed to testify.
Cave contends that because Halfacre didn’t plead guilty to raping the woman, a victim impact statement was not relevant.
The judge ruled that, because Halfacre had not pleaded guilty to the rape charges, certain parts of the letter could not be considered.
But the letter in its entirety is in the record of trial obtained by Military Times.
“I think about what he did to me every day,” the woman wrote.
“My life in Bahrain began to fall apart after he did this to me, as it affected my whole life.”
To read the full Tinder, Sailor, Hooker, Pimp story, visit: http://militarytimes.com/bahrain-scandal
Watch all five parts of the video series:
Part 1: “They do sex and make u money”
Part 2: The Informant
Part 3: “She tried to fight”
Part 4: “She came to my room”
Part 5: “Unacceptable”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.