An East Newark man was one of 22 people who reportedly orchestrated a human trafficking and prostitution organization in and around Bergen County, Bergen County Prosecutor Mark A. Musella said late last week.
The arrests were the result of a four-month investigation conducted by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and Chief Robert Anzilotti.
Gabriel Torres, 30, a resident East Newark, was charged along with 21 other defendants from various towns throughout New Jersey.
This past November, members of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Special Investigations Squad initiated an investigation called “Operation Hope in Darkness,” into a reported human trafficking, prostitution and money-laundering organization operating throughout Bergen County, in other parts of North Jersey and in New York.
The investigation, Musella says, revealed the lot of 22 arrestees were allegedly trafficking women throughout Bergen, Hudson, Middlesex and Passaic counties and in Rockland County and Queens County, New York, for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts.
As a result of the investigation, the primary leaders of a criminal enterprise were found to have engaged in money-laundering and prostitution offenses since at least 2015. The criminal enterprise employed drivers to facilitate the money laundering and prostitution offenses.
Additional individuals were also identified as managing and/or supervising separate money laundering and prostitution organizations throughout North Jersey and in New York.
The identified leaders of the enterprise allegedly secured multiple female victims to work for them each day. They would field calls for up to 12 or more hours a day from men soliciting women for sex acts.
Multiple drivers were employed by the organization to transport the female victims to various locations throughout the day for the purpose of having the women engage in commercial sex acts. Each victim would be forced to work for 12 or more hours per day, meeting with 20 to 40 men during their shift.
On average, the members of this organization charged $35 to $40 per 10 to 15 minute session for commercial sex acts, which generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in illicit proceeds each month. This money was collected by various members of the organization.
The money was then broken down and deposited into bank accounts in an attempt to avoid currency-transaction reporting requirements. Once deposited, the illicit proceeds paid mortgages and other property maintenance expenses on multiple properties in New Jersey and Florida.
The organization reportedly kept 50% of the daily proceeds, while the victims were given the other 50%. Their money, however, was often used to satisfy a trafficking debt and/or wired to sex traffickers in the Puebla and Tenancingo regions of Mexico.
During the early morning hours of Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021, more than 100 detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office executed 19 search warrants in Bergen and Hudson counties and arrested 21 individuals.
One individual is currently a fugitive from justice and is believed to be in exile in Colombia. The BCPO says it’s working with federal counterparts to locate and extradite her to the United States.
More than 50 women have been identified as being victims of human trafficking during the course of the investigation. In partnership with the United States Department of Homeland Security Victim Assistance Specialists and Covenant House, the BCPO is undertaking efforts to connect these victims with all available resources to help them obtain a life free from sexual servitude and abuse.
Anyone who has been the victim of human trafficking is encouraged to call the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Tipline at (201) 226-5532. Services and assistance are available, and the BCPO says it will ensure victims are connected to the resources.
Musella thanked the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, Office of Homeland Security Investigations – New Jersey Division, Englewood Police Department, Paramus Police Department, Port Authority Police Department, Fairview Police Department, Hackensack Police Department, Hillsdale Police Department, Tenafly Police Department, Saddle River Police Department, Woodcliff Lake Police Department, the New Jersey State Police and the Office of the Bergen County Clerk for their work in the investigation.
Torres, meanwhile, was charged with the financial facilitation of criminal activity, a third-degree crime, and promoting prostitution, a third-degree crime.
Other defendants not residing in The Observer’s readership area were charged with crimes ranging from racketeering, human trafficking, promotion of organized street crimes and possession of CDS marijuana with the intent to distribute.
To see the full list of those charged, click on the graphic below.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.