The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday announced the arrest and charges for 22 alleged members of an international human trafficking ring based in Bergen County that would force women into sexual slavery, and had operated in the county for as many as six years, authorities said.
In a virtual press conference Thursday, Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella announced that 22 people were arrested and charged for their alleged involvement in the human trafficking ring that victimized more than 50 people, many of them Mexican immigrants, by forcing them into prostitution. More than 1,500 clients of the forced prostitution were identified, said Robert Anzilotti, the office’s Chief of Detectives.
Through a months-long sting, dubbed “Operation Hope in Darkness,” the Prosecutor’s Office arrested 21 people and charged them with multiple crimes that include prostitution, racketeering, money laundering and human trafficking.
On Wednesday morning, more than 100 detectives from the Prosecutor’s Office executed 19 search warrants in Bergen and Hudson Counties, and arrested 21 people. The trafficking ring’s operation spanned Bergen, Hudson, Middlesex and Passaic Counties, even crossing the Hudson River, operating in Rockland County and Queens County, New York.
Among the individuals charged with crimes is Nancy Rincon, 61, one of the alleged ring-leaders, who is currently on the run in Colombia, said Anzilotti. The office is working with the Department of Justice to locate, arrest and extradite Rincon to face justice in New Jersey, he said.
The human trafficking ring was an international, highly organized operation that victimized women from ages 18 to mid-30s. In local apartments and condominiums across New Jersey and New York, the women were paid to service as many as 40 clients a day for 12 hours at a time, said Anzilotti.
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti announced the arrests of 22 people allegedly involved in an international human trafficking ring. Courtesy of Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
The human trafficking ring operated in Bergen County for 5 to 6 years, gradually spreading to neighboring North Jersey counties and New York, said Anzilotti. The ring used a criminal hierarchy to employ everyone from drivers who would take women to clients to enforcers who would keep the victims complacent and serve as bodyguards for the victims from clients, he said.
The trafficking ring would recruit mostly young Mexican women, luring them with the possibility of coming to the United States, only to force them into prostitution, said Anzilotti.
The drivers would be paid $200 a day to bring the victims to clients, in what’s called out-call service prostitution.
The trafficking ring netted hundreds of thousands of dollars every month through the forced sex slavery, according to the statement.
The victims would receive 50 percent of the money earned through prostitution, said Anzilotti, with the ring-leaders taking the other half. A majority of the money the victims would receive ended up back in the hands of ring-leaders to pay back victims’ alleged debt for being brought to the United States.
Those arrested and/or charged include the four alleged ring-leaders, charged with first degree money laundering and racketeering, along with second degree human trafficking and promotion of organized street crime. They were also charged with third degree promotion of prostitution:
Alleged supervisors and managers of the trafficking ring and money laundering operations, charged with second degree money laundering and promotion of organized street crime, along with third degree promoting prostitution:
Three women and 12 men were also arrested and charged with multiple third degree crimes, including money laundering and promotion of prostitution.
In 2019, 247 cases of human trafficking were reported in New Jersey, behind only 11 other states in the country, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
The Prosecutor’s Office is now working with Covenant House, a privately funded agency that provides shelter and crisis care, to help provide housing and support to the more than 50 victims saved through the sting, said Anzilotti.