These four men were sentenced by Superior Court Judge Mitzy Galis-Menendez in Hudson County:
Michael A. McLeod, 25, of Jersey City, N.J., the “boss” of the ring, was sentenced to 18 years in state prison, including four years of parole ineligibility. He pleaded guilty on March 28 to first-degree conspiracy to commit human trafficking and second-degree facilitation of human trafficking.
Tyree D. Jeter, 28, of Jersey City, N.J., was sentenced to six years in state prison, including three years of parole ineligibility. He pleaded guilty on March 29 to second-degree conspiracy to facilitate human trafficking and second-degree facilitation of human trafficking.
David Powell Jr., 29, of Jersey City, N.J., was sentenced to six years in state prison. He pleaded guilty on March 28 to second-degree conspiracy to facilitate human trafficking.
Deputy Attorney General Annmarie Taggart, Deputy Chief of the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, prosecuted the defendants and handled the sentencing hearings. The charges were contained in an Oct. 9, 2015 indictment that was the result of 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. The FBI Child Exploitation Task Force includes FBI agents, Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office detectives, Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office personnel, and the New Jersey Human Services Police. The Secaucus, Northfield and Jersey City Police Departments assisted.
The investigation began in April 2015 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. The investigation revealed that McLeod used violence or the threat of violence to control the two victims who were prostituted by the defendants: the 14-year-old and an 18-year-old woman. McLeod once held a gun to the head of the 18-year-old and threatened to kill her. Other times, he beat and kicked her. McLeod and his assistants put the victims up at hotels where they were required to prostitute themselves under the control of the defendants. The four defendants were arrested in May 2015.
“McLeod used violence and threats of violence to force his teenage victims to submit to sexual acts with up to 10 men a day,” said Acting Attorney General Lougy. “We’ve ensured that this brutal human trafficker will spend a long time in prison, where he can’t harm any more vulnerable young women.”
“The fight against human trafficking is never easy, because the traffickers operate in the shadows and they instill fear in their victims,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Through investigations such as this one and ongoing public outreach, we’re working to bring these crimes to light, bring the perpetrators to justice, and rescue victims like the young runaway in this case.”
Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI Newark Division said: “The FBI working jointly with our law enforcement partners on the Child Exploitation Task Force is committed to pursuing the human traffickers who prey upon the children and exploit the vulnerable in our state.”
Acting Attorney General Lougy and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a confidential Human Trafficking Hotline 1-855-END-NJ-HT.
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 status as “pimp” or “boss,” as well as the roles of the other men. McLeod relied on Jeter, Powell and Hayward to control the girls when he was not around and ensure they were not free to leave. Each victim had sex with up to 10 customers a day, making up to $800, all of which McLeod collected. Jeter would rent hotel rooms in his name and share them with the girls, waiting outside as security while they were working. Powell also would act as a “body guard” for the girls, waiting outside while they were with customers. Hayward transported the girls between hotels. Hayward and Powell also brought food to the girls or took them out to eat, because McLeod did not let them have any money. McLeod collected all of the money from the girls. He gave Jeter, Powell and Hayward 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 handled the case for the Division of Criminal Justice. Acting Attorney General Lougy commended the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force for its work on this case. The lead investigators for the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force were 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.