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AG: Human traffickers face trial in Lancaster County
Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro discusses arrests in a two-state human trafficking enterprise. Submitted
Two alleged human traffickers first identified locally by Northern York County Regional Police are now facing trial on numerous charges, including involuntary servitude, according to state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
Kenneth Crowell, 34, and Barry "Bear" Schiff, who turns 51 this week, are accused of forcing women into prostitution with violence, threats and drug addiction.
Shapiro said the two New Jersey 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.
On Monday, Feb. 5, Crowell waived his right to a preliminary hearing at a Lancaster County district judge's office, according to court records. A message left with his defense attorney, Chris Tallarico, was not immediately returned.
Schiff, who represented himself, had his charges forwarded to Lancaster County Court after a district judge determined enough evidence exists for him to stand trial with Crowell, according to court records.
Each faces a total of 34 charges, including counts of human trafficking, involuntary servitude, promoting prostitution, running a corrupt organization and criminal conspiracy.
They remain in Lancaster County Prison, Crowell on $1 million bail and Schiff on $750,000 bail, court records state.
Alleged multistate ring: 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.
The existence of the alleged human-trafficking ring came to light after Northern York County Regional Police conducted a prostitution sting at a Manchester Township motel along Route 30 in March 2016.
One of the women asked an undercover officer for help, saying she was being held against her will, police have said. When she made the statement, she was unaware the man was an undercover officer and thought he was merely another customer, police have said.
Controlled with drugs? One prostitute 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.
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.
Bucket of bleach: 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 in March 2016.
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.
"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 Police Lt. David Lash said at the time.
Helping the women get free of their involuntary servitude "was very satisfying for all of the officers involved in the detail," Lash said, adding it allowed the women to "take the first step in reclaiming their lives."
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, according to court records.
In exchange for his plea, all of his other charges were dismissed, including human trafficking offenses and charges of involuntary servitude.
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 by 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.