Sheriff’s office increasing focus on human trafficking
— Back on June 26, 2014, Sheriff Scott Adams heard a police radio call in which officers were dispatched to the Holiday Inn Express near North East — where a woman had just told a hotel clerk that a man was holding her and another woman against their will.
The woman had sprinted from the guest parking lot while the man in question, Germaine Wiggins, then 34, was parking a car with an Ohio license plate. She asked the employee to hide her from Wiggins and the clerk immediately whisked her away, an interaction that later would be supported by surveillance video.
Based on the basic information contained in that transmission, Adams had a strong hunch what was taking place, even before the first investigator arrived at the scene.
“My thought was, ‘ This sounds like a case of human trafficking,’” recalled Adams, who, just eight weeks earlier, had taken a police training course in detecting the signs of human trafficking. “The Ohio registration stood out to me. For some reason, Ohio is a big source of human trafficking.”
Adams called a fellow officer, a longtime friend of his with the North East Police Department, and shared his read on the reported situation. Officers arrested Wiggins, an Ohio resident, at the motel.
As it turned out, the Maryland State Police investigation that followed revealed that Wiggins, an alleged pimp whose nicknames included “Prince” and “Max Luxury,” had been trafficking the woman — ages 25 and 36 — to broker prostitution transactions for them in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and then Maryland.
Investigators filed eight criminal charges against Wiggins, including prostitution, kidnapping and human trafficking.
Human trafficking awareness
While that incident dates back more than two years ago and is considered to be a rare Cecil County arrest resulting in human trafficking charges, Adams is trying to educate residents here about human trafficking and how to detect it.
That’s because it’s quite likely human traffickers stop in or pass through Cecil County and go unnoticed while doing so, according to Adams.
Adams and others in law enforcement believe Cecil County is ripe for prostitution related to human trafficking. Even if the actual act of prostitution doesn’t occur here, human traffickers are likely to stop in Cecil County for food, fuel and lodging while traveling to their next destination, he explained.
“Our county is certainly an area that is conducive to human trafficking. (Interstate 95) runs right through Cecil County, and there are hotels right off the I-95 corridor,” Adams said. “Right now, in general, there is a big push by the National Sheriff’s Association to raise awareness of human trafficking.”
There also is a push by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
During a town hall style meeting in North East last week, Adams broached the topic of human trafficking as one of several other issues he addressed during that forum.
Human trafficking typically involves men who prey on runaway teenage girls or women, who, in some cases, have drug addictions that are exploited. Human traffickers advertise the women’s prostitution services on appointed dates at hotels in towns and cities in various states. Human traffickers make appointments at those locations and travel from place to place to meet customers.
Adams and some of his deputies already have received special training on human trafficking, and the remaining deputies will be taking the course in the future.
Deputies have been trained to detect signs of human trafficking while conducting traffic stops and when observing activity in public places, such as convenience store and parking lots, according to Adams.
“A lot of times, it’s a girl between the age of 12 and 18 who looks out of place. She may have poor hygiene or a lack of grooming. She may have on clothing that is inappropriate for this time of year, for example. It could be a girl who is dressed more like a woman. She may be quiet or reserved,” Adams listed.
It may appear that the teenage girl or women doesn’t belong in the company of the man or men in question.
Should those signs be evident during a traffic stop or some other encounter, deputies would question the man or men with the girl or woman, Adams said, adding that they also would “pull her aside and see if she is OK.”
As for residents of Cecil County, they also should be vigilant, Adams emphasized.
“If citizens see something out of the ordinary, they should report it. It’s the same principle as ‘see something, say something’ that applies to combating terrorism,” Adams commented, urging people to call 911 or police if they have suspicions.
Cecil County case
As for the criminal case against Wiggins, Retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge V. Michael Whelan sentenced him to time served — approximately 20 months — after Wiggins entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor count of human trafficking during a Cecil County Circuit Court hearing in February.
In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains his innocence while acknowledging that the state possesses enough evidence to convict him at trial.
A misdemeanor charge of human trafficking in Maryland is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and, or, a $5,000 fine and can include the element that the defendant “induced or persuaded” the victim into the human trafficking.
A felony human trafficking charge, on the other hand is punishable by up to 25 years in prison and applies if the victim is a minor or if the suspect used force or the threat of force to involve the victim in human trafficking.
“I’ve been around 16 years, and this is the only human trafficking case, to my recollection, that I have ever seen in Cecil County,” said Michael J. Halter, who served as Wiggins’ defense lawyer. “I would agree, though, there is human trafficking occurring here that we just don’t know about because it goes undetected.”
(There is a Cecil County connection to a more recent human trafficking case. Howard County investigators charged an Elkton man, Berris V. Munroe, 39, with human trafficking and related offenses in March after catching him allegedly brokering the sex services of a woman at an Ellicott City hotel. Munroe’s jury trial is set for March 20.)
According to court records in the unrelated Wiggins case, Wiggins had met one of the women in Marion, Ohio, on June 6, 2014, and started managing her as a prostitute in Columbus before meeting the second woman a short time later and assuming the same role for her.
Advertising the prostitution services through online postings, Wiggins and the two women traveled to where the prospective clients were located to have sex for money, court records show.
Wiggins had driven the women to motels in Ohio, before journeying to Pittsburgh, Pa., and then to Manassas, Va., according to court records.
The defense had maintained in a pretrial hearing that, early in their travels, one of the prostitutes suggested “splitting proceeds” with Wiggins in a proposed business arrangement, after they agreed that there was “more money to be made on the East Coast.”
By the time they had traveled from Pittsburgh to Manassas, however, their business venture had soured and the women had “expressed a desire to stop traveling with him,” telling Wiggins that they wanted to return to Ohio, according to the defense.
Wiggins informed the women that they would be leaving Manassas and would be heading to Maryland, where he planned to “stack up his money” through their prostitution services, court records show.
After arriving at the Holiday Inn Express near North East on June 26, 2014, one of the women fled and asked the hotel clerk for help — generating the police radio dispatch that Adams heard, prompting him to report his hunch concerning human trafficking.