Sher­iff’s of­fice in­creas­ing fo­cus on hu­man traf­fick­ing

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CARL HAMIL­TON

ca­hamil­ton@ce­cil­whig.com

— 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.

ELKTON

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.

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