Six Mexican Nationals, all in the U.S. illegally, have been arrested in an international sex trafficking ring that was run out of Lakewood, New Jersey.
John Hoffman, New Jersey’s acting attorney general, announced the arrests today. He said women were smuggled from Mexico and other Latin American countries into the U.S. and forced to work in what he called “high volume” brothels.
“It was not uncommon for women who work for Romero Flores to service as many as 100 johns in a week,” Hoffman said.
The alleged mastermind of the operation, Jose Cruz Romero-Flores, 38, was arrested July 11, at his apartment on River Avenue in Lakewood on charges of first-degree human trafficking. He is the first person to be charged under a new tougher state anti-trafficking law that took effect on July 1.
This is the first international ring busted by the state’s recently created Human Trafficking Unit created by former Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, who was recently appointed to the U.S. Senate, following the death of Frank Lautenberg.
Romero-Flores allegedly operated three Lakewood brothels, including ones on Bellinger Street and Chestnut Street, but only one, at 1093 Brook Road, was operating at the time of his arrest.
The five others arrested in connection with the prostitution ring include Romero-Flores’ girlfriend, Odulia Bedran Trejo, 22, who allegedly helped recruit women for the brothels, Felix Rios-Martinez, 47, of Lakewood, Raul Romero-Castillo, 30, of Lakewood, Haliro Bueno, 21, of Lakewood and Santos Lazaero Flores-Cruz, 58, of Union City.
The six defendants are being held in the Ocean County Jail with bail set at $1 million for Romero-Flores and $100,000 for each of the other defendants.
Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University in Newark who researches the problem of international trafficking, said she was not surprised at today’s announcement. “It’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise globally after drug trafficking.”
In the Lakewood case it’s alleged that the group lured women in Mexico and other countries to the U.S. by promising them jobs as housecleaners and babysitters.
Venetis said that’s a common approach to trick women to leave their families. Another approach often used, according to Venetis, is for a person to go back to their native country and present themselves as a success story in America. “They will be well dressed and have a lot of money. This person builds trust in the community through family ties and tells a family that their daughter is so beautiful. I know I can find her a good job,” she said. “What happens is those girls are brought to the United States and forced into prostitution.”
To report a suspected case of human trafficking the public is asked to call 877-986-7534 or visit NJHumanTrafficking.gov