Trio from NJ recruited underage girls to work as prostitutes, cops say
Police say three Essex County residents are facing human trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting several underage girls to perform sex acts with clients at motels throughout Union County.
Ibn Shabazz, 26, of East Orange, Sameerah Williams, 19, of Newark, and Antwanajah Barnhill, 19, of Irvington were arrested Friday following a seven-week investigation by the Union County Special Victims Unit, authorities said Tuesday.
Police say they began the investigation after being contacted by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency and the Polaris Project, which authorities describe as a nonprofit agency aimed at targeting human trafficking. In a statement Tuesday, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace Park said Shabazz, Williams and Barnhill set up advertisements on a classified ads website Some of the ads, police say, also featured pictures of the young "escorts."
According to authorities, clients would call the number listen in the ads, at which point the defendants would allegedly use various apps to sent the clients messages in an effort to arrange the time, date and location of the meetings, how much to charge and how long the "date" would last.
During the course of the investigation, which also involved the Elizabeth Police Department, the Irvington Police Department, the Union Township Police Department, and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the prosecutor said authorities learned that "numerous registrations" at Union County motels were found to have been booked by the defendants.
“Crimes of this nature are particularly horrific because they involve the manipulation of vulnerable underage victims,” Park said. “We hope these charges send a strong message to any of those who would even think about engaging in such abhorrent criminal conduct.”
Authorities say Shabazz and Williams were charged with two counts of first-degree human trafficking, two counts of first-degree human trafficking by purchasing advertising for a commercial sex act featuring a depiction of a minor, two counts of first-degree promoting prostitution of a child under the age of 18, two counts of second-degree human trafficking and two counts of third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Bail for Shabazz was set at $500,000 and Bail for Williams stands at $200,000, police said Tuesday.
In addition, authorities say they have charged Barnhill one count each of first-degree human trafficking, first-degree promoting prostitution of a child under age of 18, second-degree human trafficking and third-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Her bail was set at $150,000, police said.
The prosecutor said the defendants are expected to make their first appearances later this week. All of the victims are expected to appear in court later this week, police said. According to the prosecutor, first-degree convictions on 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 state prison.
Authorities say the investigation is continuing and they are attempting to track down any additional victims. Anyone with information is asked to call Sgt. Gusmano at 908-965-3877.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.