LAKEWOOD, NEW JERSEY (PIX11)- This is the man police say ran a multi-state prostitution ring out of the little town of Lakewood New Jersey.
Jose Cruz Romero-Flores, better known as “Chato”, allegedly led a team that tricked Latin American women into coming to the U.S. The women believed they would work as cleaners and babysitters but were instead forced into prostitution.
“Human trafficking occurs in the shadows of society.”
New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman announced the arrests Thursday afternoon, about one week after police took own Romero-Flores at his Lakewood apartment.
Five other people including Romero-Flores’ girlfriend were arrested as part of ‘Operation No Boundries’.
The group allegedly forced the women to service as many as 100 “Johns” per week. Romero-Flores faces a number of charges including human trafficking which alone carries a sentence of 20 years to life if he’s convicted.
While police believe the crew operated several brothels throughout the community, only this one at 1093 Brook Road was operating during the arrests.
People who live in the surrounding neighborhood say they had no idea the prostitution ring had set up shop right in their backyard.
“Never see people going in and out. You see trucks bringing merchandise and that kind of thing but it seems to be a quiet area over there,” said Lakewood resident Sam Reichmann.
While the AG says the prostitution ring was based here in Lakewood, they say Romero-Flores worked with brothel owners throughout New Jersey and New York providing dozens of women to his “Johns”.
“One of the reasons why criminal associates like Mr. Romero-Flores do this is to be able to offer their clientele a variety of women, as degrading and heinous as that sounds, unfortunately it made them more profitable.”
These arrests are the first filed under a new state law signed by Governor Chris Christie that increased penalties for human trafficking.
While Hoffman is confident those arrested will face the stiffest penalties allowed, he says concern remains for the victims.
“Often they’re illegal, often they don’t speak the language, and often they don’t have an education. They don’t understand where they can go to report this crime or to get help.”
Hoffman urges anyone with information or concerns to call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 877-986-7534.