BEYOND BERGEN: Three Jersey City men and an accused accomplice from South Carolina trafficked a 14-year-old girl in a prostitution ring they operated in hotels in and around Hudson County, authorities announced today.
The alleged ringleader, 24-year-old Michael A. McLeod of Jersey City ( above, left ), surrendered to city police this morning, state Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said early this afternoon.
Fellow city residents David Powell Jr., 28 ( second from left ), and 27-year-old Tyree Jeter ( second from right ) were arrested Monday, Hoffman said.
Demetrius James Hayward, 19, of Summerville, SC ( right ), already was in custody, he said.
All four are charged with first-degree human trafficking, conspiracy, and promoting prostitution of a minor, as well as with promoting prostitution and child endangerment. McLeod also is charged with aggravated assault.
They were being held on $400,000 bail each in the Hudson County Correctional Facility.
“The investigation began in April when the FBI Task Force received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that photos of the 14-year-old victim, who was a runaway from South Jersey, were being used in ads for a ‘female escort’ on backpage.com,” Hoffman said.
An undercover task force detective called the number in the ad and arranged an April 9 date at a Secaucus motel.
He was met there by both the girl and an 18-year-old victim “who was assigned to keep track of her,” Hoffman said.
After the girl offered the detective sex for money, “officers entered the motel room and took custody of the two teenagers,” he said.
The ring “put the victims up at each hotel for four or five days at a time” and forced them to prostitute themselves “under the control of McLeod and his assistants,” the Attorney General said.
“Each victim had sex with up to 10 customers a day, making up to $800, all of which McLeod collected,” he said.
McLeod was the pimp, while Powell and Jeter rented the hotel rooms, which Jeter shared — “waiting outside as security while the girls were working,” Hoffman said.
Powell worked as a bodyguard as well, while Hayward drove the victims between hotels, he added.
McLeod “relied on Jeter, Powell and Hayward to control the girls when he was not around and ensure they were not free to leave,” Hoffman said.
The trio “brought food to the girls or took them out to eat, because McLeod did not let them have any money,” the Attorney General said. He collected the proceeds and gave Powell and Jeter “a small percentage” while keeping most of the cash himself, he said.
McLeod also forced the 18-year-old woman into prostitution, “holding a gun to her head and threatening to kill her for disrespecting him,” Hoffman said.
Other times, he beat and kicked her, he said.
“It’s heartbreaking that a 14-year-old girl became trapped in a horrific life where, out of fear and isolation, she was forced to engage in sex with up to 10 men a day,” Hoffman said.
“This case starkly illustrates the wretched slavery endured by victims of sex trafficking,” he added.
“Human traffickers operate in the shadows of society where their crimes against vulnerable victims are easily hidden,” DCA Director Elie Honig added. “Through the type of collaboration exemplified by the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force, we’re shining a light on these crimes and rescuing victims like this young runaway.
“We urge anyone who sees a child or teenager at a hotel in suspicious circumstances to call our confidential human trafficking hotline.”
The FBI Child Exploitation Task Force in Atlantic City teamed up with the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Unit in the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau to make the case.
The task force includes FBI agents, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office detectives, Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office personnel, and the New Jersey Human Services Police.
The Secaucus Police, Northfield Police and Jersey City Police assisted in the investigation, Hoffman said.
Deputy Attorney General Annmarie Taggart, Deputy Chief of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, and Detective Sgt. Noelle Holl are assigned to the case for the Division of Criminal Justice.
The lead investigators for the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force are Detective Paul Vanaman of the Human Services Police Department, Sgt. William Adamson and Detective Jennifer Cugini of the Atlantic County Prosecutors Office, Detective Gregory Engster of the Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office, and Special Agent Daniel A. Garrabrant of the FBI.
MUGSHOTS: Courtesy NJ ATTORNEY GENERAL
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