By Carlos Avila
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman on Thursday announced arrests of a Lakewood man and five more associates on charges of human trafficking for allegedly operating brothels in Lakewood in Ocean County that were part of a network of brothels in New Jersey.
Lakewood is in Congressman Chris Smith's district so this human trafficking arrest hits close to home, considering Smith's longtime advocacy for trafficking victims. The law allowed federal human trafficking grants to create the Trenton-base NJ Human Trafficking Task Force in the New Jersey Attorney General office a few years ago and similar ones across the United States.
"As horrifying as it is to be reminded again that sex trafficking occurs in our communities, I am proud that Gov. Christie, New Jersey legislators and law enforcement have made the fight against human trafficking a priority and that New Jersey's anti-trafficking law is like the federal laws I have authored--strong enough to put traffickers away for life," said Smith, co-chairman and co-founder of the House Human Trafficking Caucus. "I look forward to seeing justice for all of the women and girls these traffickers so brutally abused."
Six people were arrested according to an announcement by Acting Attorney General Hoffman. The network is believed to also operate in New York and other states. Among its numerous provisions, TVPA authorized the U.S. State Department's annual Trafficking in Person's report (TIP report) that was released July 11. All countries, including the United States, are rated and U.S. has the highest rating of Tier 1.
Smith said all Tier 3 (the lowest rating) countries are subject to potential sanctions that include: the United States using its voice and vote to deny such countries loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other multi-lateral banks, and barring non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance, as well as certain education and cultural exchange programs. Since the TIP Report's inception, more than 120 countries have enacted anti-trafficking laws and many countries have taken other steps required to significantly raise their tier rankings--citing the TIP Report as a key factor in their increased anti-trafficking response.
In addition to the original 2000 law which provided for the annual reports, Smith wrote two subsequent anti-trafficking laws (PL 108-193 and PL 109-164) increasing resources for crime prevention and expanding treatment assistance for victims.
The alleged "owner" of the Lakewood brothels, Jose Cruz Romero-Flores, 38, aka "Chato," was arrested on Thursday, July 11, at his apartment on River Avenue in Lakewood on charges of first-degree human trafficking, second-degree promoting organized street crime, and third-degree promoting prostitution. The first-degree human trafficking charge carries a sentence of 20 years to life in state prison. Romero-Flores allegedly operated several Lakewood brothels, including ones on Bellinger Street and Chestnut Street, but only one, at 1093 Brook Road, was operating at the time of the arrests.