Union County, NJ

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Union County is located in northern New Jersey. Its population is just over 575,000 making it the seventh-most populous of the New Jersey’s 21 counties. Its largest city and government seat is Elizabeth. Prostitution, sex trafficking, and crimes associated with the local sex trade such as child endangerment are well documented problems throughout the county.  For example, in May, 2016, several underage girls were recruited to perform sex acts with clients at motels in several municipalities across Union County, according to a statement by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. Locations in which the sex trafficking enterprise operated include Union Township and Elizabeth. Three individuals were arrested at a hotel in Elizabeth following a seven-week investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Victims Unit. The three suspects had recruited the underage girls and then set up advertisements that sometimes featured photos of their young victims on the “escorts” section of backpage.com, according to the prosecutor’s report. Clients would contact a phone number on the ads where they would arrange a meeting with the victims at several locations in Elizabeth and Union.  Charges included first-degree human trafficking, first-degree human trafficking by purchasing advertising for a commercial sex act featuring a depiction of a minor, first-degree promoting prostitution of a child under the age of 18, second-degree human trafficking, and third- degree endangering the welfare of a child. Convictions on first-degree criminal charges are commonly punishable by 10 to 20 years in state prison, while second-degree crimes are punishable by 5 to 10 years.

In April, 2017, prosecutors in Union County arrested two people accused of involving an underage girl in their human trafficking scheme.  The suspects posted ads on escort websites to arrange dates with the victim and used motels in Rahway and Linden for “sex-for-cash meetings.” The two were arrested at their homes and were taken to the Union County Jail, and were charged with two counts of human trafficking and two counts of first-degree promoting the prostitution of a minor. Spencer was also charged with second-degree sexual assault. First-degree trafficking of a minor carries a minimum penalty of 20 years in prison, or a maximum of life in prison. In August, 2017, a Newark New Jersey man has been charged with sex crimes for human trafficking and promoting prostitution in Union County, NJ. The suspect recruited a minor to engage in sexual activity with adults at motels located throughout Linden and Rahway, NJ. The girl was reportedly expected to collect money from the adult clients and then give the cash to the suspect. Police investigated the possible human trafficking operation for at least five months before obtaining arrest warrants for the suspect and another person allegedly involved in the criminal enterprise. The suspect has been charged with several sexual offenses, including sexual assault, human trafficking, and promoting prostitution. He was recently indicted on the criminal charges, meaning that he may eventually have to stand trial in Union County Superior Court. The Newark NJ suspect has also been charged with endangering the welfare of a child because he allegedly attempted to enlist underage minors in sex crimes. A Hillside NJ woman has also been charged in connection with alleged prostitution ring. She was placed under arrest and charged with promotion of prostitution.

In August, 2017, Hanover Township police arrested a New Providence NJ man who allegedly committed a sex crime by forcing a woman into prostitution. The suspect was a 41-year-old resident of New Providence in Union County. According to law enforcement officials, the suspect was engaged in human trafficking in Hanover, New Jersey. The suspect reportedly forced the 31-year-old female victim to engage in sexual acts with men in exchange for money. After the sex acts were finished, the suspect allegedly ordered the woman to hand over the cash she received. The suspect, who describes himself as a poker professional, was arrested after Hanover Township police officers responded to a report of a possible domestic violence incident at an area motel. When Hanover NJ cops arrived at the motel, they found the victim. The victim reportedly told police that the suspect would assault her anytime she declined to have sex with clients for money. The suspect was placed under arrest and charged with numerous criminal offenses, including human trafficking, promoting prostitution, aggravated assault, criminal restraint, false imprisonment, and terroristic threats. The suspect was also charged with drug distribution because police allegedly found him carrying illegal narcotics when they took him into custody. In September 2017, Union police made arrests at a massage business when they discovered it to be a place of prostitution, police said. According to police, they continued to monitor the location and discovered that the individuals had returned to business and “nothing had changed.” In response, in April 2018 undercover Union detectives entered the premises and arrested a man and four women in connection with the prostitution business at a local spa on Morris Avenue.   In September, 2018, the managers of four Westfield massage parlors were arrested and charged with promoting prostitution.  They had been arrested following an investigation by several agencies including the Westfield Police Department. They were also charged with promoting prostitution in a school zone and one defendant was charged with money laundering.

Among the efforts to combat such crimes have been the use of tactics targeting consumer level demand for prostitution.  For example, in July, 2020, a federal grand jury indicted a Union County, New Jersey, man for persuading, inducing and enticing numerous female victims to travel in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution and other sexual acts, often by use of force, violence and threats. The man from Elizabeth, New Jersey, was charged in a superseding indictment with four counts of coercion and enticement. He was originally charged in February 2020 with two counts of coercing and enticing and in May 2020, he was indicted on a third count involving another victim. The July 2020 indictment added a fourth victim. According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, from May 2015 to October 2019, the defendant persuaded, induced and enticed female victims, often “commercial sex workers,” to travel from various out of state locations, including Canada, New York, and Pennsylvania, in order to engage in prostitution with him. In each instance, the man lured a female victim to New Jersey with promises of large payments. In three of the charged instances, when the victim asked for payment, the man became aggressive, often assaulting and raping her, and never paid the women for their services. In one of the charged counts, it was alleged that Victim-3 was forced to engage in unwanted sexual activity, including having sexual intercourse without a condom. The coercion and enticement charges each carry a maximum term of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Joe Denahan in Newark; special agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason Molina in Newark; and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone, with the investigation leading to today’s superseding indictment. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Emma Spiro of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Violent Crimes Unit in Newark.

Key Partners

  • FBI
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
    • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)
  • Union County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office Violent Crimes Unit in Newark
State New Jersey
Type County
Population 575345
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