Couple arrested for allegedly forcing teen into prostitution
A man and woman are charged with human trafficking after allegedly forcing a teenager into prostitution.
The 17-year-old victim was found walking along Interstate 295 in Lawrence Township at about 11 p.m. Jan. 1.
When State Police troopers found the teen, she told them she had escaped from a hotel where she was forced to perform sexual acts, according to the report.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, Lawrence Police Department and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families were called to assist.
Detectives determined that Breon Mickens and Ashley Gardener had transported the victim to hotels, where Gardener allegedly forced her to engage in sexual activity with multiple men, and collected the money they paid, according to the charges.
Gardener allegedly posted sexually suggestive ads featuring pictures of herself and the victim on Backpage.com. The ads offered adult entertainment and listed a phone number for clients to call, which allegedly belonged to Gardener.
Gardener was arrested at a township hotel shortly after the interview with the victim.
Mickens was found in Trenton on Sunday by members of the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit, Fugitive Unit, Electronic Surveillance Unit, and the United States Marshal’s Service New Jersey/New York Regional Fugitive Task Force-Trenton Division.
Gardener is charged with human trafficking, human trafficking of a minor and promoting prostitution. Mickens is charged with human trafficking and possession of marijuana, which was seized during his arrest, police said.
Both were lodged at Mercer County Jail pending a detention hearing.
“The allegations in this case starkly illustrate how human-traffickers will isolate young victims from any support network and force them into a cruel life of sexual slavery,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said. “Fortunately, this victim was able to escape, and a concerned motorist called police to report that the victim was walking alone in the dark on Interstate 295. I urge the public to alert law enforcement whenever they see children or teens in suspicious circumstances, so we can investigate, rescue victims of human trafficking, and bring traffickers to justice.”
Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig said his office “will continue to work with State Police Police and our other law enforcement partners to rescue victims from the shadows where these crimes of human trafficking occur and aggressively prosecute those responsible.”
“Trafficking anyone, man or woman, boy or girl, is a violation of basic human rights,” said Col. Patrick Callahan, acting superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “It is appalling and indecent, and it will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”
The investigation was led by the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit. The New Jersey State Police Cyber Crimes and Crime Scene Units also assisted. The defendants will be prosecuted by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in the Office of the Attorney General. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit at 732-431-3610.