‘Shocking and depraved:’ Alleged members of Berks County sex trafficking ring indicted

U.S. Attorney William McSwain announces new indictments against members of the

U.S. Attorney William McSwain announces new indictments against members of the "Sevens" sex trafficking ring in Reading, Pennsylvania. (Miles Bryan for WHYY)

The United States Attorney’s Office announced new indictments Wednesday afternoon in an investigation regarding a sex trafficking scheme allegedly run out of a Reading rooming house.

Thirteen alleged members of the “Sevens” gang have been charged with crimes including kidnapping, sex trafficking, child pornography and murder. Six of them were previously arrested as part of an investigation last April and now face new charges.

All the defendants face criminal conspiracy charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, known as RICO, a legal statute frequently used to take down large criminal enterprises.

“That’s a pretty big deal, to have a RICO case,” said U.S. Attorney William McSwain at a press conference. “That’s a really powerful bazooka to point at defendants, and we thought that this merited it.”

Court documents describe the Sevens — derived from the number of letters in the word “loyalty” — as having operated sex trafficking and drug selling operations from December 2017 to March 2019. The indictment discusses fifteen victims of sex trafficking and violent crime, including two minors.

The Sevens gang allegedly used intimidation and violence to keep its operation running. According to the indictment, one minor was locked naked in a dog kennel overnight. Pictures of her abuse were used to advertise the gang’s sex trafficking business online.

“It’s absolutely shocking and depraved … It’s physical and psychological torture,” McSwain said.

The victims were from Berks county, said Reading Police Captain Paul Reilly. He wouldn’t give specifics about how exactly they ended up under the influence of the Sevens gang but said some were recruited through social media.

Court documents portray the Sevens gang as organized and disciplined, with members carrying a rank and playing specific roles in the enterprise. Shaquile Newson and Alexander Malave, for example, were co-founders and “generals” who gave orders and ensured rules were followed. The gang taxed residents of the rooming house that had not joined the gang and who wanted to sell drugs there. It collected an “homage” fee from each member to pay for expenses like bail money. The Sevens held regular meetings to discuss growing membership through recruitment, initiating new members, establishing and enforcing rules, and increasing revenue, according to the indictment.

If convicted, all defendants face up to life in prison.

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