A Summerville man has been arrested for being a member of a New Jersey human trafficking ring that forced a 14-year-old runaway girl into prostitution, authorities said.
Demetrius James Hayward, 19, and three Jersey City men were charged Monday with first-degree human trafficking, two counts of promoting prostitution, child endangerment and conspiracy.
The N.J. Attorney General’s Office announced the arrests Thursday of Hayward; Michael A. McLeod, 24; David Powell Jr., 28; and Tyree D. Jeter, 27. The defendants are being held on $400,000 bail.
The ring operated in hotels in and around Hudson County, according to the state office. McLeod, the ringleader, allegedly used violence or the threat of violence to control the two victims who were prostituted: the girl and an 18-year-old woman, the office 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,” said acting N.J. Attorney General John Hoffman. “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.”
The defendants allegedly put the victims up at each hotel for four or five days at a time. They were required to prostitute themselves under the control of McLeod and his assistants, the agency said.
The investigation began in April when the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force in Atlantic City received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that photos of the 14-year-old, a runaway from South Jersey, were being used in online ads for a “female escort.”
An undercover detective 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, according to the state office.
When the detective went to the motel, he was met by the girl and 18-year-old woman, 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.
Further investigation revealed McLeod’s alleged status as “pimp” or “boss” as well as the roles of the other men, according to the state office:
Powell and Jeter allegedly rented hotel rooms in their names for the girls. Jeter allegedly would share their hotel room, waiting outside as security while the girls were working. 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, the Summerville man, to control the girls when he was not around and ensure they were not free to leave. Hayward allegedly transported the girls between hotels. 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.
McLeod allegedly collected all of the money from the girls, giving Hayward, Powell and Jeter a small percentage of the money but keeping most of it for himself.
The first-degree human trafficking charge carries a sentence of 20 years without parole to life in New Jersey state prison and a fine of up to $200,000.