From Mexico to North Jersey: Cops bust $250K-a-month sex traffic ring
A human trafficking and prostitution ring stretching from North Jersey and parts of New York to Mexico has been broken up, Bergen County and federal law enforcement announced Thursday.
Police arrested more than 20 people accused of various levels of involvement over a several year span, including managers and drivers who also acted as enforcers and money collectors in the $250,000 a month operation, Chief Robert Anzilotti of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office said.
More than 50 female victims were lured from small towns in Mexico and transported throughout Bergen, Hudson, Middlesex and Passaic counties, as well as Rockland and Queens counties in New York, where they were forced into prostitution, Bergen County Mark Musella said.
Women rescued in this operation range in age from 18 into the 30s, Anzilotti said, adding police did not find any underage victims.
Birmania “Nancy” Rincon was the accused ringleader. The 61-year-old Teaneck resident remained a fugitive in Colombia as of Thursday as law enforcement is working to have her extradited.
Two homes were seized in Teaneck as well as three condo units in Florida and roughly $250,000 of the illegal proceeds, authorities said.
Operation “Hope in Darkness” managed to put an end to activities that stretched back to at least 2015, Anzilotti added.
He said it was a total "out-call service network," meaning that there was no “front” of hotel rooms or massage parlors for people to visit looking to pay for sexual encounters.
The women forced into prostitution worked for 12 or more hours per day, meeting with 20 to 40 men during their “shift,” according to prosecutors, at rates of $35 to $40 per 10- to 15-minute session for commercial sex acts.
Investigators said the money made was then collected by each driver, as the organization kept 50% of each day’s earnings. Though the victims were given the remaining half, their money often went to satisfy a trafficking debt, authorities said.
Prosecutors said another woman and two men helped Rincon oversee and operate the expansive network: 59-year-old Luz “Amy” Rincon, also of Teaneck, 39-year-old Bernardino Hernandez-Palacios and 28-year-old Fernando Hernandez, both Lodi residents.
Those four suspects are charged with second-degree promotion of organized crime, first-degree counts of racketeering and money laundering, and third-degree promotion of prostitution.
Another “layer” of managers and supervisors — three men and one woman — helped separate money laundering and prostitution organizations throughout North Jersey and New York, according to Musella.
Among them were 46-year-old Roberto Molina, of Hackensack, 32-year-old Giovanni Morales-Degales, and 38-year-old Armando Garcia-Osorio, both of Queens, he said.
Molina, Morales-Degales and Garcia-Osorio each faces second-degree counts of promotion of organized crime and money laundering, as well as third-degree promotion of prostitution.
Monserrat Gomez-Sanchez, 35, of Elmwood Park, was the other accused supervisor, while 28-year-old Catherine Echavarria, of Teaneck, helped deposit money being collected into different bank accounts to try and avoid detection, prosecutors said.
The following eight men were identified as drivers, shuttling the women to and from their prostitution calls, police said:
- Daniel Morffi, 24, identified by authorities as both a resident of Weehawken and the Parlin section of Sayreville
- David Aguirre, 25, of Englewood
- Rodrigo Santander-Quito, 34, West New York
- Edgar Vanegas, 40, of Bergenfield
- Anthony Quezada, 32, of North Bergen
- Edwin Mercado, 18, of Union City
- German Ceballos-Orozco, 22, of Bergenfield
- Gabriel Torres, 30, East Newark
All accused drivers, as well as Gomez-Sanchez and Echavarria, each face third-degree counts of money laundering and promotion of prostitution.
Another four suspects netted each face a third-degree count of promotion of prostitution:
- Joan “Tato” Rincon, 39, of Lodi
- Oscar Rincon, 40, of Elmwood Park
- Laura Garcia-Maravilla, 34, of Lodi
- Jorge Rincon, 67, of Teaneck
Additionally, Bryan Jimenez-Rincon, 32, of Lodi, has been charged with second-degree drug possession with intent to distribute and third degree money laundering.
“Human trafficking is real — it is right here under our noses, and we cannot do enough to help these victims,” Anzilotti said during the news conference.
Convent House has been working to help assist the women in getting food, shelter, medical and mental health aid as well as long term support, Musella said.