Jury convicts 2 human traffickers first ID'd by York County police

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A Lancaster County jury has convicted two human traffickers of numerous offenses for running a forced-prostitution ring that was first uncovered by police in York County.

Kenneth Crowell, 36, and Barry "Bear" Schiff, 52, coerced 10 women into prostitution with violence, threats and drug addiction, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has said. His office handled the prosecution.

The two New Jersey men held women hostage, forced them to sell their bodies and made them turn over their earnings, according to court documents.

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.

Crowell and Schiff used Backpage.com and Eros.com to advertise under the name "Adriana's Angels," according to a state grand jury presentment against the men.

The existence of the 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.

Helping victims: Locating potential victims of human trafficking "is the driving force behind these stings," said Deputy Chief Dave Lash of Northern Regional Police.

The department has partnered with the FBI to go after traffickers, especially those who force children into prostitution, he said — but plenty of adult victims of human trafficking have been identified during the stings as well.

"It's a crime that pervades the entire state, especially where there are concentrations of hotels," Lash said, such as York's Route 30/Interstate 83 corridor.

Crowell and Schiff were convicted Thursday, Nov. 14, in Lancaster County Court of numerous felony offenses, officials said.

Barry Schiff

They include counts of running a corrupt organization, trafficking in individuals, involuntary servitude, criminal conspiracy and promoting prostitution, according to a state police news release.

The man could face maximum sentences of decades in prison, according to Karissa Hand, Shapiro's deputy press secretary.

The trial lasted eight days, state police said, and the case was prosecuted by senior deputy attorney general Heather Castellino.

Crowell and Schiff remain in Lancaster County Prison, Crowell on $1 million bail and Schiff on $750,000 bail, court records state.

Human trafficking ring: Undercover Northern Regional officers — along with state troopers and members of the FBI — were conducting a trafficking sting at the Motel 6 on Arsenal Road in Manchester Township in March 2016 when a victim reached out for help.

She approached an undercover officer, thinking he was merely another customer, and said she was being held against her will, according to police, which is when law enforcement focused on Crowell and Schiff.

One prostitute told investigators Schiff would get women addicted to opioids, then would cut off their supply as a means of controlling them, court documents state.

Another woman told investigators she would bring in $3,000 a day while working for Crowell and Schiff, and she was only able to escape from them when her brother and police came to the hotel, according to documents.

Afterward, Crowell sent her messages on social media that threatened her family, court documents state. The woman also told police Schiff forced her to pick up large quantities of heroin, police have said.

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, court documents state. She also said Schiff kept a knife inside his shirt sleeve.

Kenneth Crowell

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.

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 court documents.

A fourth woman told investigators that Crowell choked her until she blacked out and threatened to "knock you the f— out," documents state.

A fifth woman also told police Crowell and Schiff forced her into prostitution so she could pay off her drug debt to Schiff.

Still scarred: 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 court documents. 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 the one who asked an undercover Northern Regional officer for help. She told police that Schiff was forcing her to sell her body and that she wanted to go home, police have said.

A sixth woman told police she thought Crowell and Schiff would protect her but that they instead treated her as a possession.

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.

Northern York County Regional Police Deputy Chief Dave Lash

York County case: Police arrested Schiff and Crowell in March 2016.

At the time, Lash said busting the two pimps 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. Crowell's entire York County case was dismissed in November 2016, records state.

By that time, state investigators with Shapiro's office were already looking into Schiff and Crowell.

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 have said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.