EAST WHITELAND — Law enforcement rescued a 14-year-old girl from the nefarious grasp of a local human sex trafficking cartel, now dismantled.
“There is the potential for more victims out there,” said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan during a virtual press conference.
Chester County Detectives, the East Whiteland Township Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations rescued the minor victim from the parking lot of a Wawa in Malvern on May 30, according to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office.
The 14-year-old sent a message to her mother stating, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
Ryan said this brave act by the victim assisted in an investigation that uncovered an East Whiteland Township human sex trafficking organization that entrapped her as the 18-year-old victim in Malvern.
Ryan said the victims were held at three residential apartments earlier this year including at 483 Lancaster Ave., 577 Lancaster Ave., and 609 Lancaster Ave., all in East Whiteland Township.
Three ring leaders have been charged as co-defendants.
They are Dimas Omar Cornejo Hernandez, 34, who also goes by the alias "Adonys;" Franklin Rivera Mendieta, 25, also known as "Mono;" and Josue Sibrian Sanchez, 33, also known as "Sibrian" for the charges of a corrupt organization that engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity that included trafficking in minors, involuntary servitude, criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, promoting prostitution, and related offenses in East Whiteland between February and May.
All three men are from El Salvador.
These co-defendants, Mendieta, Sanchez and Hernandez, engaged in a criminal conspiracy and criminal course of conduct by recruiting, enticing, soliciting, transporting, obtaining and maintaining individuals whom they benefited from financially while they were subjected to sexual servitude, as well as other sexual assaults and criminal activity, according to the DA’s office.
It was unknown as of press time if the ring leaders were part of a larger transnational human trafficking cartel outside of their now dismantled network in East Whiteland.
“We are still investigating the impetus behind this corrupt organization,” Ryan said.
The DA's office said other unidentified and unnamed individuals were involved.
“Chester County has not seen anything like this that I am aware of in decades. I know this behavior is more common in places like Philadelphia and other major cities. To my knowledge there is no other behavior like this, but again, these people were able to hide behind closed doors,” said Ryan during Wednesday’s press conference. “We need to remain vigilant and keep our eyes open to protect our kids.”
Five additional men were taken into custody in East Whiteland for paying to have sex with either the 14-year-old minor child or the 18-year-old victim in East Whiteland, authorities said.
The men are Diana Ordonez, 25; Luis Cabrera Peralta, 29; Nestor Ruiz, 45; Juan Humberto Ortiz Ortiz, 35; and Carlos Villatoro Gallegos, 23.
“The allegations in this case are difficult to digest because of the calculated and deviant sexual exploitation of the two victims,” Ryan said. “Our office will continue the investigation to determine if there are other victims of this human sex trafficking organization. We encourage anyone with further information to contact our office. These defendants will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Brutal captivity, several victims
The DA’s office said the 14-year-old child, known as Victim 1, went missing from her home in Maryland in early May. She then sent a message to a friend to report that she was being held against her will and sold for sex. Her friend contacted the police to report the statement.
On May 28, the minor sent a Facebook message to her mother that she “didn’t want to be here anymore” and asked that she pick her up at a Wawa on Lancaster Avenue in East Whiteland Township. Her mother contacted the police, the DA’s office said.
After her rescue during the early hours of May 30, the victim told law enforcement she was held against her will and forced to have sex for money with as many as five individuals per day at three different locations in East Whiteland Township, according to the DA’s office. The minor said her captives threatened to kill her if she did not comply with the abuse.
The minor stated that a 17-year-old named Tiny from Camden, N.J., had originally recruited her at a party in Washington, D.C. The DA’s office said after communicating through Snapchat, Tiny asked the 14-year-old victim if she wanted to make money and then picked her up in Maryland with one of the co-defendants. The 14-year-old was then driven to an apartment in Malvern where she was forced to perform oral sex on one of the co-defendants as a means of “breaking” and “testing” her for the work she would be required to perform.
The minor told police that Tiny and one of the co-defendants took pictures of her that were used to advertise that men could pay to have sex with her, and they took her to Walmart to buy “sexy clothes.” The DA’s office said another co-defendant acted as a doorman who collected money as individuals arrived for sex. He then waited while they had sex.
The minor said that she was told to give a fake name and false age if asked by anyone. While interviewing witnesses regarding the abuse of Victim 1, law enforcement discovered a second victim — an 18-year-old, known as Victim 2, who said she had been held against her will by the co-defendants in February and March, the DA’s office said.
The 18-year-old woman said she met a female through Snapchat who introduced her to one co-defendant on the premise he had a job for her working in a bar, according to the DA’s office. The woman victim said she was picked up in Virginia and brought to East Whiteland Township where she was forced to have sex for money with many individuals.
Authorities said she was also sexually assaulted by one of the co-defendants and threatened with bodily harm if she attempted to leave. The 18-year-old was forced to ingest drugs on various occasions.
One of the co-defendants collected money from individuals who paid to have sex with her and also served as a doorman, the DA’s office said. The 18-year-old victim was held for approximately three weeks before she could escape.
“We are very grateful for the persistence and dedication of the East Whiteland Township Police Department, Chester County Detectives and Homeland Security Investigations,” Ryan said. “Through their hard work and tireless efforts we were able to dismantle this criminal organization that preyed on women and children for their own financial gain. They helped rescue a child and prevent further predatory behavior.”
The East Whiteland Township Police Department and the Chester County Detectives are investigating the case. Deputy District Attorney Erin O’Brien of the Child Abuse Unit is the assigned prosecutor.
Preliminary hearings were scheduled for July 9 before Magisterial District Judge John Bailey in Exton. All eight men are being held at Chester County Prison in lieu of bail. All men have ICE detainers except for Rivera-Mendieta who is in America legally via a Green Card.
There are 40.3 million people enslaved worldwide today, according to research from the Walk Free Foundation.
“It’s really challenging especially because people like these, and this corrupt organization, are preying on people who seem to have some difficulties in their lives at the current time,” Ryan said. “We need to make sure we are watching out for our kids.” This includes following up on where they’re going and if someone is missing taking action to report his or her disappearance to authorities.
Ryan asked the public “to be vigilant and mindful of all of our kids.”
Any person with information regarding this investigation, or anyone who is a victim of human trafficking, is encouraged to contact Chester County Detectives at 610-344-6866.