TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that four men were indicted today by a state grand jury on first-degree charges of conspiracy, human trafficking and promoting prostitution of a minor for allegedly trafficking a 14-year-old girl in a prostitution ring they operated in hotels in and around Hudson County. The alleged boss of the ring also is charged with sexually assaulting the girl.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained an indictment charging the following men with conspiracy (1st degree), human trafficking (2 counts, 1st degree), promoting prostitution of a minor (1st degree), endangering the welfare of a child (2 counts, 1st and 2nd degree), promoting organized street crime (1st degree), facilitating human trafficking (2nd degree), and promoting prostitution (2 counts, 3rd degree):
- Michael A. McLeod, 24, of Jersey City, the alleged “boss” of the ring,
- David Powell Jr., 29, of Jersey City,
- Tyree D. Jeter, 27, of Jersey City, and
- Demetrius James Hayward, 20, of Summerville, South Carolina.
McLeod also is charged with sexual assault (2nd degree), endangering the welfare of a child (3rd degree), and criminal sexual contact (4th degree).
The charges stem from 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. The FBI Child Exploitation 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, Northfield and Jersey City Police Departments provided assistance.
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. McLeod allegedly used violence or the threat of violence to control the two victims who allegedly were prostituted by the defendants: the 14-year-old and an 18-year-old woman. Once, McLeod allegedly held a gun to the head of the 18-year-old and threatened to kill her. Other times, he allegedly beat and kicked her. The charges of promoting prostitution of a minor, endangering the welfare of a child, and sexual assault pertain to the 14-year-old victim. McLeod and his assistants allegedly put the victims up at hotels, where they were required to prostitute themselves under the control of the defendants. Each victim had sex with up to 10 customers a day, making up to $800, all of which McLeod collected. The four defendants were arrested in May.
“This is a heartbreaking case that fits a classic pattern of human trafficking,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “We allege that these defendants trapped a vulnerable 14-year-old girl in a wretched life of sexual slavery where she had to perform sex acts with up to 10 men a day. No child would submit to such horrific conditions unless she faced a threat of violence, which in this case allegedly was conveyed by the ring’s boss in the form of brutal attacks on a second victim.”
“We’ve made prosecuting human trafficking a top priority in New Jersey and will continue to work closely with the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force and other law enforcement partners to rescue victims like this young runaway,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We need to search for these victims and throw them a lifeline, because far too often it is the fact that they are lost and adrift in life that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.”
Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel of the FBI Newark Division said: “The FBI working jointly with our law enforcement partners on the Child Exploitation Task Force is committed to hunting down the human traffickers who prey upon the children and exploit the vulnerable in our state.”
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, 2015 at a motel room in Secaucus. 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.
Further investigation revealed McLeod’s alleged status as “pimp” or “boss” as well as the roles of the other men. 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 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. He allegedly gave Hayward, Powell and Jeter a small percentage of the money, but kept most of it for himself.
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. Acting Attorney General Hoffman commended the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force for its work on this case. 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.
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 state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. The charge of first-degree endangering the welfare of a child carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison and a $10,000 fine.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. All four defendants remain in the Hudson County Jail, where they have been held since their arrests in May with bail set at $400,000 for each man.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Hudson County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig urged anyone who suspects human trafficking to report it by calling the Division of Criminal Justice’s Human Trafficking Hotline 1-855-END-NJ-HT.