TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today that four men have been arrested 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 surrendered to authorities this morning.
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 today to the Jersey City Police Department. Powell and Jeter were arrested on May 11 in Jersey City. Hayward already was in custody following his arrest on May 8 in Jersey City on an unrelated warrant. 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.
It is alleged that McLeod 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. The human trafficking charge and first-degree prostitution charge pertain to the defendants’ conduct against the 14-year-old. McLeod is charged with aggravated assault for allegedly holding a gun to the head of the 18-year-old and threatening to kill her recently when he accused her of disrespecting him. Other times, he allegedly beat and kicked her. The defendants allegedly put the victims up at each hotel for four or five days at a time. The victims were required to prostitute themselves under the control of McLeod and his assistants. Each victim had sex with up to 10 customers a day, making up to $800, all of which McLeod collected.
The FBI Child Exploitation Task Force in Atlantic City 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. The Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit will prosecute the defendants.
“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 Attorney General 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.”
“Human traffickers operate in the shadows of society where their crimes against vulnerable victims are easily hidden,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “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.”
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.
All four defendants are charged with the following offenses:
- Conspiracy (1st degree),
- Human Trafficking (1st degree),
- Promoting Prostitution of a Child Under 18 (1st degree),
- Promoting Prostitution (3rd degree),
- Endangering the Welfare of a Child (3rd degree).
In addition, McLeod is charged with Aggravated Assault (4th degree). The defendants are being held in the Hudson County Jail with bail set at $400,000. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
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.