By Karen Zautyk
Four defendants were charged last week in a 35-count indictment alleging they were part of a humantrafficking conspiracy involving a 15-year-old Essex County girl, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced.
Authorities said that, from May to August 2013, the girl “was transported from different locations in Belleville and North Bergen to various hotels and apartments where she was forced to have sex with adult men for money.”
The Belleville police referred The Observer to the prosecutor’s office, but, to protect the victim, that office declined to provide details on the Belleville connection.
The defendants, all of whom face conspiracy charges including promoting prostitution and money laundering, were identified as: Patricia Munoz, 23, of Jersey City; Charles P. Torres, 59, of North Bergen; his son, Charles B. Torres, 26, of Ridgefield Park; and Victor Reyes, 38, of Union City.
Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Sandler, who is handling the case, said Munoz met the teenager at a party last May. Munoz allegedly befriended the girl and introduced her to Charles P. Torres. Through manipulation and coercion, the victim reportedly began working for him as a prostitute and was required to turn the money she was paid over to him.
Sandler said Charles P. Torres advertised the victim with contacts he already had over the telephone, via text message and online, where he posted ads to sell her body for sex.
Charles P. Torres allegedly took photos of the victim in various states of undress and performing sexual acts.
These pictures were kept on his cell phone, camera and computer and were distributed via text and posted in the online ads, Sandler said.
Additionally, he is charged with sexually assaulting the victim on at least two different occasions in his home in North Bergen.
Charles P. Torres was arrested Aug. 7, 2013, and incarcerated at the Essex County Correctional Facility, but his operation reportedly remained ongoing.
He allegedly continued to collect money from men who had previously had sex with the 15-year-old and at least one other prostitute, an adult.
The collection of outstanding payments was facilitated through phone calls placed by the defendant from the jail to his son, Charles B. Torres, and to Victor Reyes, authorities said. Those illegal proceeds were reportedly shared between Charles B. Torres and Reyes.
Charles P. Torres and Munoz face 20 years to life in state prison. Reyes and Charles B. Torres face 10 to 20 years.
The indictment was handed up Jan. 14. The defendants will be arraigned before Essex County Superior Court Judge Sherry Hutchins-Henderson. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, authorities noted.
“This is our first human-trafficking indictment under the [state’s] new comprehensive anti-trafficking law,” said Murray, noting that it was brought in coordination with the N.J. attorney general’s Human Trafficking Task Force.
“We plan to aggressively go after those who would attempt to exploit children and others in this manner,’’ Murray added.
“This is a heartbreaking case which starkly illustrates the type of sexual abuse and exploitation of the very vulnerable that our new anti-trafficking law is meant to address,’’ said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman.
Murray lauded the Belleville Police Department, the FBI and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office for their help in the case.