By Malia Rulon Herman
Two New Jersey lawmakers who have long fought human trafficking said Thursday that in light of the massive prostitution ring uncovered in Lakewood, they would redouble efforts to call attention to the growing problem.
Republican Sen. Jeff Chiesa, who has worked on human trafficking cases in his former job as the state's attorney general, said he's talking to both Democrats and Republicans about what more can be done legislatively to combat trafficking.
"I think law enforcement does need more tools," Chiesa said. "We need to be better prepared to go after these cases."
Republican Rep. Chris Smith, the primary author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which was reauthorized this past March, said he's always "looking to see if we can create a better tool box" for law enforcement.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act gave law enforcement officials more power to go after individuals suspected of trafficking -- and created a rating system to hold countries accountable for being lax on the issue.
Smith said Thursday that he's in the midst of talking to airlines and other transportation officials about stepping up the training of flight attendants, bus drivers and others on what to look for when a person is being transported against their will.
"Every trafficked person at some point is transported somewhere," Smith said. "If you spot something that doesn't look right, say something."
New Jersey law enforcement officials announced Thursday the arrest of a Lakewood man who has been charged with operating several brothels in the township and employing dozens of women lured to the country from Mexico with false promises of jobs as house cleaners or babysitters.
Read more: Lakewood man charged with operating brothels, employing dozens of women.
Jose Cruz Romero-Flores, 38, aka "Chato," and his girlfriend Odulia Bedran Trejo, 22, were arrested last week. Four associates, three of them from Lakewood, were also arrested. Romero-Flores, the alleged ringleader, is charged with first-degree human trafficking, second-degree promoting organized street crime and third-degree promoting prostitution.
Both Chiesa and Smith warned that large sporting events, like wrestling matches or the Super Bowl, tend to draw prostitution rings to the area. With New Jersey set to host the next Super Bowl, they said efforts should be focused on getting information out to the public about what to look for.
"If we can get the whole world on the same page on that, it's one of my dreams," Smith said.
Chiesa said that that human trafficking is the one issue -- aside from Superstorm Sandy relief -- that he's hoping to make the most difference on during his brief tenure.
"I'm trying to balance the realistic short time I'm here with what I see is a very critical issue," Chiesa said, adding that he's been talking to colleagues about possible legislation that would give law enforcement officials more tools to pursue cases like the Lakewood one.
He also is focusing his efforts on talking to large companies, Internet providers and schools about the issue.
"I'm going to spend the Fall going to schools and other places talking about it," Chiesa said.
His term ends in October when a special election will be held to elect a successor to the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.