Police break up prostitution, trafficking ring with ties to Lancaster, York Counties

Harrisburg — Two men who coerced six victims into prostitution with the false promise of easy money and then used drugs, violence and threats to control them have been arrested for human trafficking, according to the office of state Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro’s office worked closely with Pennsylvania State Police and other law enforcement agencies to build the prostitution and trafficking case, Shaprio’s office said in a press release announcing the charges.

Kenneth Crowell, 34, and Barry “Bear” Schiff, 50, are accused of coercing six women into a forced servitude as prostitutes in a human trafficking ring that operated in Lancaster, Montgomery, Philadelphia and York counties and southern New Jersey from 2014 until October 2017, the release said.

Crowell was taken into custody by authorities outside Chicago over the holiday weekend, and Schiff, currently incarcerated in York County, was arrested as well.  The men are charged with trafficking in individuals, corrupt organizations, involuntary servitude, conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver, prostitution and related offenses.

“This is a horrible case where women were lured into prostitution by the false promise of easy money,” Shapiro said in the release.  “When the victims tried to leave, these criminals used violence and threats of violence to keep them working as prostitutes against their will. Law enforcement collaboration and the use of a statewide investigating grand jury built this case.  We will use every tool at our disposal to prosecute these kinds of human trafficking cases.”

The arrests mark the second human trafficking case brought by the Office of Attorney General and Pennsylvania State Police in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, two defendants were held for trial on human trafficking charges in Montgomery County in a case broken open with the help of an Uber driver who alerted police to the existence of a trafficking victim.

The charges against Crowell and Schiff stem from a joint investigation by the Office of Attorney General and Pennsylvania State Police, with assistance from Northern York County Regional Police, Dallas TX police, Millville NJ police, the North Star Initiative of Lancaster, and the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Program.

The ring was uncovered when a woman reported to police that she was a victim of human trafficking during an undercover prostitution sting.

On April 4, 2017 two undercover Pennsylvania State troopers responded to a prostitution advertisement on the website Backpage. Using the listed phone number — later linked to a second number tied to nearly 350 similar ads over two months — the troopers arranged a meeting with the victim at a Lancaster hotel.

After the troopers identified themselves, the victim told police she did not feel safe and wanted to “get out.” She said she was recruited by Crowell and Schiff as an escort while she was working at a York gentlemen’s club. The victim told the troopers Schiff bragged about selling opioid pills and heroin to the women working for him as a means of control. When she told Schiff she didn’t like him buying and supplying heroin in the hotel room where she worked, he allegedly threatened her with a knife.

A second victim testified before the grand jury that she needed money to fuel her addiction and began working for Crowell and Schiff believing they ran an escort service, not a prostitution ring. She testified she rarely slept and was sent in an Uber to buy large amounts of heroin for Schiff multiple times.

According to the grand jury presentment, a third victim testified Schiff told the women his name was “Frank Luchese” and impersonated a mobster to intimidate them. She said she joined what she believed was an escort service run by Crowell and Schiff to pay off a drug debt to Schiff. When she tried to leave, Schiff allegedly told her he would “chop her up into little pieces and throw her in the river.”

Victim Four worked for Crowell and Schiff at various times between 2014 and 2016 as a way to obtain heroin and support her addiction. She testified Crowell tried to strangle her on several occasions, causing her to lose consciousness during one confrontation.

A fifth victim who began working for Crowell and Schiff in 2015 testified that Schiff controlled her with prescription opioids and heroin. This victim testified that one time, after she refused Schiff’s demand for sex, Schiff slammed her head into a bucket of dirty water containing shards of broken glass. The victim suffered severe cuts and scarring on her knees and legs.

After that incident, the victim sought help during a “date” from an undercover police officer and gave a full statement to police before being taken to the hospital for treatment.

Because of the complexity of trafficking cases and the importance placed on them by Attorney General Shapiro, the office has specially designated Senior Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino to prosecute human trafficking cases.

“No one should be victimized by the kind of brutality and violence that happened in this case,” Shapiro said in the release.  “We’re focused on taking on and taking down human trafficking wherever we find it in our Commonwealth.”