Three Jersey City men were among four arrested on human trafficking and prostitution charges, allegedly forcing a 14-year-old girl to have sex with up to 10 men a day as part of a prostitution ring being operated in and around Hudson County, Acting Attorney General John Jay Hoffman announced.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The following four men were charged on May 11 in an investigation by the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force in Atlantic City and the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Unit in the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau:
Michael A. McLeod, 24, of Jersey City, the alleged “boss” of the ring, and his alleged assistants:
David Powell Jr., 28, of Jersey City,
Tyree D. Jeter, 27, of Jersey City, and
Demetrius James Hayward, 19, of Summerville, South Carolina
McLeod surrendered to the Jersey City Police Department on Thursday, while Powell and Jeter were arrested on May 11 in Jersey City, officials said, adding that Hayward was already in custody following his Jersey City arrest on May for an unrelated warrant.
They have all been charged with first degree conspiracy, first degree human trafficking, first degree promoting prostitution of a child under 18, third degree promoting prostitution, third degree endangering the welfare of a child and McLeon has also been accused of fourth degree aggravated assault, authorities said.
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, the state Attorney General’s Office revealed.
McLeod allegedly used violence or the threat of violence to control the two victims who were prostituted by the defendants: the 14-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman, officials said.
The human trafficking and first-degree prostitution charges pertain to the defendants’ conduct against the 14-year-old, while McLeod is also charged with aggravated assault for allegedly holding a gun to the head of the 18-year-old and threatening to kill her when he accused her of disrespecting him, authorities said.
Other times, he allegedly beat and kicked her. Furthermore, the defendants allegedly put the victims up at each hotel for four or five days at a time, and the victims were then required to prostitute themselves under the control of McLeod and his assistants, according to court documents.
Furthermore, each victim allegedly had sex with up to 10 customers a day, making up to $800, all of which McLeod collected.
“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 in a statement.
“This case starkly illustrates the wretched slavery endured by victims of sex trafficking. These men we have charged rightly face some of the harshest penalties available under state law.”
An undercover detective from the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force telephoned the number in a backpage.com ad containing photos of the missing runaway and arranged a “date” for April 9 at a motel room in Secaucus, officials said.
When the detective went to the motel, he was met by the 14-year-old girl as well as the 18-year-old victim, who was assigned to keep track of her. After the 14-year-old girl offered the detective sex for money, officers entered the motel room and took custody of the two teenagers, authorities said.
Further investigation revealed McLeod’s alleged status as “pimp” or “boss” as well as the roles of the other men, with Powell and Jeter allegedly renting hotel rooms in their names for the girls. Jeter allegedly would share their hotel room, waiting outside as security while the girls were working, officials said.
Powell also allegedly would act as a “body guard” for the girls, waiting outside while they were with customers. McLeod allegedly relied on Jeter, Powell and Hayward to control the girls when he was not around and ensure they were not free to leave, court documents state.
Hayward allegedly transported the girls between hotels, while Hayward, Powell and Jeter also allegedly brought food to the girls or took them out to eat, because McLeod did not let them have any money, authorities said.
Additionally, McLeod allegedly collected all of the money from the girls. He allegedly gave Hayward, Powell and Jeter a small percentage of the money, but kept most of it for himself.
The defendants are being held in the Hudson County Jail with bail set at $400,000.
The first-degree human trafficking charge carries a sentence of 20 years without parole to life in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000.
The other first-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000.
Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Finally, fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.