FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 18, 2018
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Public Information Bureau (609) 882-2000
Major Brian Polite - ext. 6514
Lt. Theodore Schafer - ext. 6515
SFC Jeff Flynn - ext. 6516
Sgt. Lawrence Peele - ext. 6531
Tpr. Alejandro Goez - ext. 6527
Tpr. Gene Hong - ext. 6532
Lawrence Township, N.J. - The New Jersey State Police have charged Ashley Gardener, 29, and her partner, Breon Mickens, 26, both of Trenton, with human trafficking after troopers encountered the17-year-old victim on Interstate 295 whom the defendants allegedly had forced to engage in prostitution.
On Thursday, January 11, at 11:00 p.m., troopers from Hamilton Station were dispatched to investigate a report of a young woman walking along Interstate 295 in Lawrence Township. In New Jersey, interstates are considered limited access highways, which means bicyclists and pedestrians are not allowed to use them. If encountered by a state trooper, they will be transported to a safe location.
When troopers located the victim, she told them she escaped from a hotel where she was being forced to perform sex acts. As a result, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, Lawrence Police Department, and the New Jersey Department of Children and Families responded to Hamilton Station to assist with the investigation.
After speaking with the victim, detectives determined that Breon Mickens and Ashley Gardener allegedly transported the victim to hotels against her will to engage in prostitution. Once there, Gardener allegedly forced the victim to engage in sexual activity with multiple men and allegedly collected the money paid by the clients. Gardener also allegedly placed sexually suggestive ads on Backpage.com featuring photos of herself and the victim. The ads offered adult entertainment and listed a phone number for clients to call, which allegedly belonged to Gardener. Shortly after the interview, members of the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit and Troop “C” Criminal Investigations Office located and arrested Gardener at a township hotel.
On Sunday, January 14, the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit, Fugitive Unit, Electronic Surveillance Unit, and the United States Marshal’s Service New Jersey/New York Regional Fugitive Task Force-Trenton Division, located and arrested Breon Mickens in Trenton.
Ashley Gardener was charged with human trafficking, human trafficking of a minor, and promoting prostitution. Breon Mickens was charged with human trafficking and possession of marijuana, which was seized during his arrest. Both were lodged at Mercer County Jail pending a detention hearing.
“The allegations in this case starkly illustrate how human traffickers will isolate young victims from any support network and force them into a cruel life of sexual slavery,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “Fortunately, this victim was able to escape, and a concerned motorist called police to report that the victim was walking alone in the dark on Interstate 295. I urge the public to alert law enforcement whenever they see children or teens in suspicious circumstances, so we can investigate, rescue victims of human trafficking, and bring traffickers to justice.”
“Trafficking anyone, man or woman, boy or girl, is a violation of basic human rights—it is appalling and indecent, and it will not be tolerated in New Jersey,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “I commend the State Police Trafficking Central Unit, Troop ‘C’ CIO, Fugitive Unit, and our partners for swiftly locating and arresting those responsible, and also the person who called 9-1-1, because public assistance is an essential component of our mission.”
“We’ll continue to work with the State Police and our other law enforcement partners to rescue victims from the shadows where these crimes of human trafficking occur and aggressively prosecute those responsible,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice.
The investigation was led by the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit. The New Jersey State Police Cyber Crimes and Crime Scene Units also assisted. The defendants will be prosecuted by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice in the Office of the Attorney General. Anyone with additional information is asked to contact the New Jersey State Police Trafficking Central Unit at (732) 431-3610.
Charges are mere accusations and the accused are considered innocent until proven guilty.
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