Essex Authorities use Human-Trafficking Law to Charge 4 with Prostitution, Conspiracy

By Richard Khavkine
Published on January 14, 2014 in The Star-Ledger

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One of them befriended the girl at a party.

The woman then introduced the 15-year-old to a North Bergen man. He, in turn, took naked pictures of her, advertised her online and also raped her, Essex County authorities said yesterday.

For the next three months, until the man’s arrest in August, they and two others conspired to prostitute the girl to men in various hotels and apartments, acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray’s office said in a statement late yesterday afternoon.

All four adults, including a father and son, now face decades in prison, charged with conspiracy, prostitution and other counts in a 35-count indictment, the first handed up by Murray’s office using a comprehensive anti-trafficking law passed by the Legislature last year.

The four — Charles P. Torres, 59, of North Bergen; Patricia Munoz, 23, of Jersey City; Victor Reyes, 38, of Union City; and Charles B. Torres, 26, of Ridgefield Park — face an array of charges, from promoting prostitution to, for the older Torres, sexual assault and production of child pornography.

Prosecutors say the girl was coerced into prostitution by the older Torres, to whom she was introduced by Munoz, who had met the girl at a party in May.

Soon afterward, the 15-year-old was being taken from locations in Belleville and North Bergen to unnamed spots where she was forced to have sex with men, Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Sandler said in the statement. The girl would then turn over the money over to Torres.

Torres took pictures of her while she was naked or using sex toys and then texted the pictures to potential clients.

The indictment also charges him with raping the girl at least twice in his home.

The elder Torres faces the most serious charges, among them promoting prostitution, racketeering, promoting prostitution of a minor, production of child pornography, distribution of child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child, as well as conspiracy counts, authorities said.

Munoz was indicted on charges of human trafficking, promoting prostitution, endangering the welfare of a child and related conspiracy counts.

She and Torres face 20 years to life in prison if convicted of their respective charges, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Torres was arrested and jailed in August. But with the help of his son and Reyes, he continued to collect money from men who had had sex with the girl and with one other adult prostitute, the statement says. The payments helped maintain the prostitution business and resulted in the racketeering charges, the prosecutor’s office said.

Reyes was indicted on racketeering, promoting prostitution and money laundering charges, as well as related conspiracy counts.

Charles B. Torres was charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to promote prostitution.

Those two face 10 to 20 years in prison if convicted, the prosecutor’s office said.

The anti-trafficking legislation, passed in March, received unanimous support from both the Assembly and Senate. Legislators wanted to pass it before next month’s Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, noting the event historically sees an increase in sex trafficking, regardless of where it is held.

“This is a prime example of the law being used to prosecute individuals who are targeting most the vulnerable in our state,” said Kate Keisel, the New Jersey director of the Polaris Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that pushes for stronger laws against human trafficking and slavery and advocates on behalf of victims.

Keisel, whose resource center is in Newark, said her office helped about 100 victims of trafficking last year, a number she expects to increase this year.

“We’re still trying to raise awareness on this issue,” she said.

Despite that, she welcomed the anti-trafficking law, which she said bolsters authorities’ ability to prosecute suspected traffickers and also strengthens resources by which victims can rebuild their lives.

“What this has done is create a foundational precedent that we’re going to come down hard on trafficking,” she said.

Among other provisions, the law toughened penalties for those who publish ads for escorts who are minors, increases penalties for trafficking, established a victims’ fund and created a 15-member state commission to look at the issue.

The indictment was brought in coordination with the state Attorney General’s human trafficking task force, Murray said in the statement. The FBI, Belleville Police and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office also took part in the investigation, she said.

“We plan to aggressively go after those who would attempt to exploit children and others in this manner,” she said.