Human traffickers used violence, drugs to coerce women into prostitution: AG

sex trafficking

Two alleged human traffickers who coerced six women into prostitution using drugs, violence and threats have been arrested for human trafficking in four Pennsylvania counties and New Jersey.

According to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, Kenneth Crowell, 34, and Barry “Bear” Schiff, 50, coerced six women into prostitution as part of a human trafficking ring in southern New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania counties of Lancaster, Montgomery, Philadelphia and York.

“When the victims tried to leave, these criminals used violence and threats of violence to keep them working as prostitutes against their will,” Shapiro said.  “Law enforcement collaboration and the use of a statewide investigating grand jury built this case.  We will use every tool at our disposal to prosecute these kinds of human trafficking cases.”

Crowell was arrested outside Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and Schiff, currently incarcerated in York County, was also arrested.  The men are charged with trafficking in individuals, corrupt organizations, involuntary servitude, conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver, prostitution and related offenses.

On April 4, undercover state troopers answered an ad on the website Backpage. The woman they met told them that she was recruited by Crowell and Schiff while stripping at a gentleman’s club in York, according to the AG’s office. The woman told the troopers Schiff bragged about selling opioid pills and heroin to the women working for him as a way of controlling them. When she told Schiff she didn’t like him buying and supplying heroin in the hotel room where she worked, Schiff allegedly threatened her with a knife.

A second victim testified before the grand jury that she needed money to fuel her drug addiction and began working for Crowell and Schiff believing they ran an escort service, not a prostitution ring. She testified she rarely slept and was sent multiple times in an Uber to buy large amounts of heroin for Schiff.

A third victim testified Schiff told the women his name was “Frank Luchese” and impersonated a mobster to intimidate them, according to the grand jury presentment. She said she joined what she believed was an escort service run by Crowell and Schiff to pay off a drug debt to Schiff. When she tried to leave, Schiff told her he would “chop her up into little pieces and throw her in the river.”

Victim four worked for Crowell and Schiff at various times between 2014 and 2016 as a way to obtain heroin and support her addiction. She testified Crowell tried to strangle her on several occasions, causing her to lose consciousness during one confrontation.

A fifth victim who began working for Crowell and Schiff in 2015 testified that Schiff controlled her with prescription opioids and heroin. This victim testified that one time, after she refused Schiff’s demand for sex, Schiff slammed her head into a bucket of dirty water containing shards of broken glass. The victim suffered severe cuts and scarring on her knees and legs.

After that incident, the victim sought help during a “date” from an undercover police officer and gave a full statement to police before being taken to the hospital for treatment.

The AG’s office did not provide information about the sixth woman.

“No one should be victimized by the kind of brutality and violence that happened in this case,”  Shapiro said.  “We’re focused on taking on and taking down human trafficking wherever we find it in our Commonwealth.”

This is the second human trafficking case brought by Shapiro’s office and the Pennsylvania State Police in recent weeks. Earlier this month, an Uber driver alerted police in Montgomery County and two defendants are being held for trial.

“The Pennsylvania State Police are committed to investigating individuals and criminal organizations involved in the trafficking of humans for financial gain,” said Cpl. Gregg J. Kravitsky. “This investigation shows that by working cooperatively with law enforcement and other partners, we can bring those who commit these heinous acts to justice.”

To watch a video with a message from Shapiro, click here.