Human trafficker gets de facto life sentence; police in York County discovered prostitution ring
A human trafficker who used violence, threats and heroin addiction to force "marginalized" women to prostitute themselves — including in York County — has received a de facto life sentence for his crimes.
Barry "Bear" Schiff, 53, and co-defendant Kenneth Crowell, 36, coerced 10 women into prostitution, held them hostage, forced them to sell their bodies and made them turn over their earnings, a Lancaster County jury previously found.
He was sentenced Thursday to 55 to 141 years in state prison, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office prosecuted the men.
Shapiro noted in a news release that Schiff deliberately preyed on marginalized young women and girls, who "endured dehumanizing exploitation by countless people."
Crowell was sentenced in February to 39 to 144 years in state prison, according to court records.
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.
Crowell and Schiff were convicted of offenses including running a corrupt organization, trafficking in individuals, involuntary servitude, criminal conspiracy and promoting prostitution, according to a state police news release.
Shapiro thanked Northern York County Regional Police, among others.
Arrested in York: The existence of the human-trafficking ring came to light after Northern Regional Police conducted a prostitution sting at a Manchester Township motel along Route 30 in March 2016.
Locating potential victims of human trafficking "is the driving force behind these stings," Northern Regional Chief Dave Lash has said.
The department has partnered with the FBI to go after traffickers, especially those who force children into prostitution, he said, adding that 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 after the men's November trial convictions, including York's Route 30/Interstate 83 corridor.
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.
Held against her will: She approached an undercover officer, thinking he was merely another customer, and said she was being held against her will, according to police, which was when law enforcement started focusing 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.
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 also 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.