TRENTON – A woman has been sentenced to 50 years in state prison for forcing a 17-year-old girl to act as a sex slave at hotels in Mercer County three years ago, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

Ashley Gardener, 32, of Trenton, received her sentence in Mercer County Superior Court on Thursday.

She was convicted by a Mercer County jury in October 2019 of first degree conspiracy, first degree human trafficking, second degree facilitating human trafficking, first degree promoting prostitution of a minor, first degree promoting organized street crime and second degree endangering the welfare of a child.

Gardener and her partner, 28-year-old Breon Mickens, also of Trenton, were charged following an investigation in January 2018 led by State Police, after the teenager escaped from one of the hotels and was rescued alongside Interstate 295 by troopers.

Investigators found that Gardener and Mickens had forced the teen into prostitution against her will, booking jobs through sexually suggestive ads on Backpage.com with Gardener's cell phone number as the contact, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said.

For three days before she was rescued, the teen was forced by Gardener to have sex with between four to 15 men per day, while being starved, given marijuana to smoke and prevented from calling her family.

Mickens acted as the “muscle” for the operation, Grewal said, while also driving Gardener and the teen to hotels.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy and was sentenced to five years in prison in November 2019.

In addition to her prison sentence, Gardener will be required to register under Megan’s Law and will be subject to parole supervision for life.

“These offenders prey on vulnerable victims, forcing them into a life of sexual slavery. We will continue to work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners at all levels, as well as victim advocates, to raise awareness about human trafficking, rescue victims, and apprehend those responsible for these terrible crimes,” Grewal said in a written statement.

“Through our human trafficking awareness efforts, we’re reminding the public that these crimes can happen anywhere, and your vigilance may save a captive victim,” he added. “If you suspect human trafficking, please call 1-855-END-NJ-HT. You are our eyes and ears.”

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