By Paul Kurtz and Ileana Diaz
GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP, NJ (CBS) — As New Jersey gears up for Sunday’s Super Bowl, authorities are shining a light on the darker side to the big game — human trafficking.
Authorities in South Jersey are using a newly enhanced statute to crack down on human trafficking.
Police are making arrests.
“I had a protective and loving mother and farther, and yet I was exploited a at a very young age,” victim Lexie Smith said.
And to protect the young and vulnerable from the sex trade during the busy Super Bowl weekend, Governor Chris Christie says their task force is in full effect.
“We have eyes and ears on the ground and in cyberspace,” Christie said.
And Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk says his county is unfortunately a hub for sex and human trafficking, wedged between New York City and Philadelphia and so close to Atlantic City.
“Often these women are transported on the major highways, the turnpikes, Route 42, the Atlantic City Expressway, and others,” Faulk said.
Authorities in South Jersey have arrested 8 people in a sting operation that targeted those who force women into prostitution.
“We are aggressive in attacking it and we will arrest and we will prosecute to the full extent of the law,” Faulk said.
Undercover cops working out of a Howard Johnson’s on Route 168 in Gloucester Township rounded up 8 people last Friday. Most were charged with prostitution. But 41-year-old Van Howel, of Sicklerville, and 30-year-old Krista Burton, of Lancaster County, face a 20 year minimum prison sentence. Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk says they’re among the first to be charged under a new statute that expands the definition of human trafficking.
“For example, taking away the identification of people so that they are then captured and can’t free themselves or providing them with drugs because they have an addiction habit,” Faulk said.
Faulk says Howel and Burton lured a Cherokee, North Carolina prostitute to New Jersey with promises of big bucks from Super Bowl customers. They even paid her bus fare. But investigators say made it clear that she would suffer the consequences if she failed to deliver. The woman has not been charged.
“She had been coerced to leaving her state of North Carolina to engage in prostitution,” Chief Harry Earle of Gloucester Township Police said.
Police say many prostitutes are victims themselves and the new state law aims to target the perpetrators.
“They are often lured into the industry through threats of violence and other means,” Faulk said.