TRENTON, N.J. — Six individuals were arrested on human trafficking charges for allegedly operating brothels in Lakewood. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.
Jose Cruz Romero-Flores, 38, of Lakewood, aka "Chato," was arrested on charges of first degree human trafficking, second degree promoting organized street crime, and third degree promoting prostitution. Felix Rios-Martinez, 47, and Raul Romero-Castillo, both of Lakewood, were charged with first degree conspiracy to commit human trafficking, second degree promoting organized street crime and third degree promoting prostitution. Santos Lazaero Flores-Cruz, 58, of Union City, and Haliro Bueno, 21, of Lakewood, were both charged with second degree conspiracy to commit human trafficking, second degree promoting organized street crime and third degree promoting prostitution. Odulia Bedran Trejo, 22, of Lakewood, was arrested on charges of second degree promoting organized street crime and third degree promoting prostitution.
"Human trafficking cases have been and continue to be a major priority for HSI," said Special Agent in Charge of HSI Newark Andrew McLees. "HSI's ability to reach beyond our borders into foreign nations where human trafficking is initiated and to partner with our state and local authorities creates a formidable strategy that grants law enforcement an advantage over those who deprive victims of their human rights. We are proud to stand next to our law enforcement partners with the State of New Jersey to announce a great success against this despicable crime."
"We have taken down a major human trafficking and prostitution ring involving brothels in Lakewood," said Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. "The brothels allegedly run by Romero-Flores were part of a network that exploited Mexican women who were tricked or coerced into illegally entering the United States, where they have endured a miserable life of high-volume prostitution. We're making it a top priority to arrest human traffickers and rescue their victims from the shadows, where these crimes occur."
"We continue to target and investigate large-scale human trafficking networks operating in New Jersey and beyond," said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. "We urge any victims or others with information about these human trafficking rings to contact us confidentially."
According to court documents, Romero-Flores, and brothel owners in New Jersey, New York and additional surrounding states, worked together as a loose network to bring women into the United States illegally. The women were primarily from Mexico, but also from other Latin American countries. Romero-Flores and the brothel owners introduced them to a life of prostitution. Many women were tricked into believing they were going to the United States to work as house cleaners or babysitters. In other cases, they were coerced into going to the United States to work the circuit of brothels and ordered to send any money they earned back to Mexico.
The investigation revealed that the brothel owners in the network paid "coyotes" to smuggle women into the United States from Mexico. The women, in many instances, were pressured to repay those who paid for them to be smuggled into the United States. Once women were brought into the circuit, they were moved from brothel to brothel. Romero-Flores allegedly ordered the women who worked for him to meet quotas. It is alleged that it was not uncommon for women who worked for him to service more than 100 clients or "johns" in a six-day week, from Monday through Saturday. Occasionally, they serviced as many as 40 or more johns in a single day. Clients paid $30 for each sexual encounter. Clients came to the brothels or were serviced in "outcalls" where prostitutes were driven to the client's location. Law enforcement believes that several dozen women worked in the brothels run by Romero-Flores over the course of the investigation, but a smaller number of women worked for him at any given time.
Romero-Flores allegedly wired money derived from his brothels to Mexico, where he owns properties. The women returned at the end of the week to other residences located in and around Queens, N.Y., and the Union City-area of N.J. Romero-Flores allegedly routinely drove to Queens to pick up women to work in his brothels.
On July 11, agents and detectives executed search warrants at the brothel located on Brook Road and Romero-Flores's home. They seized several vehicles, $5,800 in cash, identification documents including Mexican passports and driver's licenses, cell phones, laptops, and ledgers that listed the names of women who worked in the brothels and dates they were scheduled to work.
The New Jersey State Police Investigations Section, the New Jersey Human Services Police, the Lakewood Police Department and the Brick Township Police Department all assisted with the investigation.
The charge of first degree human trafficking carries a sentence of 20 years to life in state prison and a criminal fine up to $200,000. The charge of first degree conspiracy to commit human trafficking carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine up to $200,000. Second degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine up to $150,000, while third degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine up to $15,000.
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.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.