Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced arrests of a Lakewood man and four male associates on charges of human trafficking for allegedly operating brothels in Lakewood that were part of a network of brothels in New Jersey, New York and other states that trafficked women from Mexico to the United States to work a prostitutes. (Video by Adya Beasley / The Star-Ledger)
Christopher Baxter/The Star-Ledger on May 29, 2014 at 10:48 AM, updated
TRENTON — A Lakewood man and four of his associates have pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking Mexican women into the country, often by trickery or coercion, to staff a network of brothels in New Jersey, New York and surrounding states, state authorities said today.
Under a plea bargain with prosecutors, Jose Cruz Romero-Flores, 39, the “owner” of the Lakewood brothels, and two associates — Felix Rios-Martinez, 48, and Raul Romero-Castillo, 31 — admitted late Wednesday to conspiracy to facilitate human trafficking. The state will recommend they be sentenced to five years in prison.
Two other associates — Santos Lazaero Flores-Cruz, 59, and Haliro Bueno, 22 — pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution, and prosecutors will recommend they be sentenced to three years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Aug. 7, and all five men are not authorized to live in the U.S. and were also being held on federal detainers.
“This case fits a classic pattern of international sex trafficking, in which deception and coercion are used to enslave women in a horrific life of prostitution in the U.S., where they must service up to 40 clients each day,” acting state Attorney General John Hoffman said in a statement.
Romero-Flores admitted operating several Lakewood brothels, including one on Bellinger Street and another on Chestnut Street. At the time of his arrest in July of last year, he was operating a single brothel at 1093 Brook Road in Lakewood.
The Lakewood brothels were part of a series of loosely linked operations along the East Coast, authorities said, which constituted the “circuit,” where women would be moved from time to time to provide fresh faces for clients.
Sex was offered at the brothels, authorities said, or women could be ordered to go and delivered to a client’s location.
Authorities said they believe several dozen women worked in the Lakewood brothels and have estimated hundreds could be part of the entire network. The women would see as many as 100 clients per week, authorities said, and 40 in a single day.
Clients paid $30 for each sexual encounter, authorities said, and either came to the brothels or were serviced through “outcalls,” in which women were driven to their location. Many of the women, who were primarily from Mexico but also other Latin American countries, were tricked into believing they were going to the U.S. to work as house cleaners or babysitters, while others were coerced into going and ordered to send any money they earned back to Mexico.
The four male associates assisted Romero-Flores by watching the brothels, driving women and clients to and from the brothels and carrying out other tasks, authorities said.
Charges are still pending against Romero-Flores’ girlfriend, Odulia Bedran Trejo, 22, who allegedly assisted him in operating the brothels and helped find women to work in them. She has been charged with promoting organized street crime and prostitution.