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AG: 2 busted for trafficking women in York, other counties
Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro discusses arrests in a two-state human trafficking enterprise. Submitted
An investigation by state police, with help from Northern Regional Police and other agencies, led to the arrest of two New Jersey men for allegedly running a human-trafficking ring.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Kenneth Crowell, 34, and Barry "Bear" Schiff, 50, forced women into prostitution with violence, threats and drug addiction.
Shapiro said the men held six women "hostage" and forced them to sell their bodies and turn over their earnings.
Crowell and Schiff used Backpage.com and Eros.com to advertise the prostitution ring under the name "Adriana's Angels," according to the grand jury's presentment against the men.
In a news release made public Tuesday, Nov. 28, Shapiro's office said the men operated their ring from 2014 until October 2017 in York, Lancaster, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties, as well as in southern New Jersey.
Arrested: Crowell was arrested outside Chicago over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to the news release.
Schiff is in York County Prison on a bench warrant for allegedly violating his probation in his York County prostitution case, according to court records. He also has a detainer lodged against him from Lancaster County on new charges that include human trafficking and involuntary servitude, according to prison records.
One of the men's alleged prostitutes told investigators Schiff would get women addicted to opioids, then would cut off their supply as a means of controlling them, according to the grand jury presentment.
Another woman told investigators she would bring in $3,000 a day while working for Crowell and Schiff, the presentment states. That woman said she was only able to escape from them when her brother and police came to the hotel, according to the presentment.
Threats alleged: Afterward, Crowell sent her messages on social media that threatened her family, the presentment states. The woman also told police Schiff forced her to pick up large quantities of heroin, according to the presentment.
She said she believed Schiff was dangerous and recounted an episode when he forced the head of another prostitute into a bucket of bleach, the presentment states; she also said Schiff kept a knife inside his shirt sleeve.
Another woman said she worked as a prostitute for the men to pay off her drug debt to Schiff, who had been selling her opioids, the presentment states.
She said that once, when she and another woman tried to leave, "Schiff told the other girl that he 'would chop her up in little pieces and throw her in the river' and that he knew 'where you and your children sleep at night,'" according to the presentment.
A fourth woman told investigators that Crowell choked her until she blacked out and threatened to "knock you the f— out," according to the presentment.
Still scarred: A fifth woman also told police Crowell and Schiff forced her into prostitution so she could pay off her drug debt to Schiff.
That woman said she once refused to have sex with Schiff, and that in response he "slammed" her head in a bucket of dirty bleach water that contained shards of glass, according to the presentment. She said she suffered severe cuts to her knees and legs, which were cut by broken glass around the bucket, and still has scars, according to police.
The fifth woman was able to ask police for help at the Motel 6 on Arsenal Road in Manchester Township, where Northern York County Regional Police were conducting a prostitution sting that day.
She told Northern Regional Police that Schiff was forcing her to sell her body and that she wanted to go home, according to the presentment.
The sixth woman told police she thought Crowell and Schiff would protect her, but that they instead treated her as a possession, the presentment states.
She said Schiff had a bad temper, saying, "my whole life is in his hands and (he) could ruin it at any point in time," according to the presentment.
York County case: Northern York Regional Police arrested Schiff and Crowell in March 2016 after their undercover prostitution sting uncovered the woman who asked them for help and said she was being held against her will.
"The fact that this operation led to the rescue of a woman being held against her will and being trafficked for sex proves that prostitution is not a victimless crime," Northern Regional Lt. David Lash said at the time.
The woman who asked for help didn't initially know her "customer" at the Motel 6 was an undercover cop, according to York County court documents, and thought he was merely a client.
She offered to have sex with him if he would drive her back to her home in New Jersey, police said. Officers got her to safety and arrested Schiff.
Helping victims: "Helping someone overcome this type of situation and allowing them to take the first step in reclaiming their lives was very satisfying for all of the officers involved in the detail," Lash said at the time.
Schiff pleaded guilty in York County Court in October 2016 to one count of promoting prostitution and was sentenced to 122 days to 23 months in prison, which was a time-served sentence, according to court records.
In exchange for his plea, all his other charges were dismissed, including human trafficking offenses and charges of involuntary servitude, records state.
Crowell's entire York County case was dismissed in November 2016, records state.
Troopers with state police's Organized Crime Unit led the investigation and were assisted by police in Dallas, Texas, and Millville, New Jersey, as well as the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia's Anti-Human Trafficking Program and the North Star Initiative of Lancaster, officials said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.