Van Howell, 41, of Sicklerville, and Krista Burton, 30, of Columbia, Pennsylvania, were each charged with first degree human trafficking following their arrests at the Howard Johnson’s on Route 168 on Jan. 24. Both are being held on $400,000 bail at the Camden County Jail. The first degree offense carries a mandatory penalty of a minimum of 20 years incarceration in a New Jersey state prison.
Law enforcement officials applied the charge in this case after learning the 26-year-old victim in the case hails from North Carolina. She appears to have been involved in the sex trade in Cherokee, North Carolina, and was recruited by Howell and Burton to work in New Jersey with the promise of a more lucrative business.
Howell and Burton allegedly paid for the victim’s bus ticket to New Jersey. Last Friday was allegedly her first day being involved in the sex trade in the state.
She is said to have arrived just hours before a joint prostitution sting conducted by the Gloucester Township Police Department and the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of the Human Trafficking Task Force.
Howell and Burton allegedly made it immediately clear to the woman she was expected to earn money for them through the sex trade, and would “suffer consequences” if she didn’t. The victim allegedly had neither the funds or the knowledge of the region to leave Howell and Burton.
“In rescuing the victim in this case and charging two individuals under New Jersey’s new law, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office and partnering police agencies demonstrated the vigilance that is needed to uncover this terrible crime of human trafficking,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “When a young woman is transported into this state and sells herself for sex because of threats and intimidation, she is a sexual slave, not a prostitute. I am proud to say that New Jersey is in the forefront in shining the light on this form of modern-day slavery and coordinating law enforcement efforts to catch traffickers and aid their victims.”
The investigation is ongoing, and law enforcement officials believe Howell and Burton may have worked to import other women into the New Jersey sex industry.
Law enforcement officials arranged the sting after police learned the Howard Johnson’s was frequently used as a rendezvous for prostitutes and johns. Undercover officers rented hotel rooms to pose as customers and used a website to order women. The hotel’s staff and management was fully cooperative with law enforcement, officials said.
The target of the operation was the network and those who run it, and not the prostitutes themselves, officials said. A total of eight were charged with prostitution and promoting prostitution. Several of those charged were allegedly drivers for the prostitutes.
prostitutes, including the woman from North Carolina, were not charged. They
were treated as victims.
Law enforcement officials believe prostitutes are typically women with mental health issues, homeless or drug addicts.
A social worker from the Gloucester Township Police Department was on hand to counsel the women and connect them with social services.
Others charged include:
- Amelia Adams, F/19, of Clementon. Charged with Prostitution
- Hector L. Echevarria, M/25, of Sicklerville. Charged with Promoting Prostitution
- Robert M. Myers, M/45, of Elizabeth, NJ. Charged with Promoting Prostitution
- Jenny E. Rossi, F/29, of Westville. Charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Prostitution
- Melinda Scheunemann, F/24, of Cherry Hill. Charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Being a Fugitive from Justice
- Andrea K. Kerber, F/49, of Collingswood. Charged with Prostitution
The State Attorney General's Office has made human trafficking a priority because of the various factors that make the state a fertile ground for this type of crime. This includes big cities with large homeless populations, a higher concentration of strip clubs and go-go bars than any other state in the country and the presence of gangs and organized crime.
The crime has also been spotlighted due to the Super Bowl being held in New Jersey this weekend, but the Gloucester Township case demonstrates this is a crime that’s not isolated to the New York metropolitan area, and is not limited to Super Bowl weekend.
While the woman allegedly trafficked in this case was an adult, law enforcement officials believe that human trafficking rings like the one allegedly run by Howell and Burton often target minors for exploitation.
The Human Trafficking offense has been on the books in New Jersey since 2005, but in July of last year it was expanded significantly.
Previously, grounds for charging Human Trafficking included a threat of serious bodily harm or physical restraint, criminal coercion, destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, or possessing any passport, immigration-related document, or other ID.
The 2013 amendments make fraud, deceit and misrepresentation, as well as making drugs available to victims, all evidence of human trafficking. The amendments also created resources for victims of human trafficking, including the creation of a statewide Commission on Human Trafficking, a Human Trafficking Survivor’s Assistance Fund and the opportunity for victims to apply to have related convictions expunged.
“New Jersey, with its dense population, large immigrant community and extensive highway network and transportation hubs, is an epicenter for human trafficking in the United States,” Camden County Prosecutor Warren W. Faulk said. “This abuse isn’t limited to the big cities, though. The mistreatment of victims through the sex trade happens in your own backyard, and we are putting perpetrators on notice that we will be watching and using all our resources to combat them.”