A indictment alleges a New Jersey man used coercion and violence to force women between 17 and 21 to act as his sex workers between November and Junewhen investigators broke up the ring during a sting operation at a hotel in Omaha. The man, Johnelle L. Bell, 27, was arrested in New Jersey earlier this month and has been transported to Iowa to face a count indictment, which includes charges of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and interstate transportation for prostitution.
He has pleaded not guilty. Brittany Lawson, 21, who prosecutors say helped Bell manage the ring, was arrested last month in Hot Springs, Ark. The indictment says their operation was headquartered in Little Rock, Ark. They posted solicitations on Back.
Lawson used Back. The indictment comes as the website, owned by Village Voice Media, is under fire from critics who say it profits from sex trafficking. Critics are lobbying the company to remove for escorts and adult services but the company has resisted, noting it cooperates with law enforcement.
Attorneys general across the country are investigating Back. Police in Detroit are investigating the slayings of four women whose bodies were found in car trunks after three of them placed online escort through the site.
Bell used promises of a personal relationship and wealth to recruit young women as sex workers, including a year-old homeless girl who had been working as a prostitute in Little Rock, the indictment says. Prosecutors say he used physical and psychological force to prevent them from leaving, striking them, whipping them with a belt, choking them, threatening to kill their families if they left and taking their identification documents.
The indictment says Bell collaborated with at least three other pimps, sharing expenses for promoting their prostitutes and information about recruiting, training and law enforcement in different geographic areas.
Bell would decide where his women would be sent across the country, and he had some of them seek out customers at truck stops, the indictment said. Lawson helped Bell run the conspiracy, obtaining rental cars to transport workers and making their hotel accommodations, taking phone calls from customers, overseeing appointments to make sure money was paid and occasionally working as a prostitute herself, according to the indictment.
Her attorney did not immediately return a phone message. The two are charged in Iowa because Des Moines was a site where the ring did business on at least four occasions, sometimes holing up in an Econo Lodge near Interstate 35, the indictment says.
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