Sex trade operator jailed for human trafficking
The operator of a human trafficking ring who used fear and violence to control drug addicted women and force them into sexual slavery in Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties is on his way to state prison.
Bruce Anthony “Cash” Steele, 45, of the 7900 block of Henry Avenue, Philadelphia, was sentenced in Montgomery County Court to 5 ½ to 11 years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking in individuals, involuntary servitude and possession with intent to deliver heroin and cocaine in connection with incidents that occurred in 2016.
Judge Todd D. Eisenberg also ordered Steele to complete seven years’ probation following parole, meaning Steele will be under court supervision for 18 years.
“The defendant controlled these girls by placing them in fear of not only violence but mainly the fear that they might go intowithdrawal because he would withhold drugs fromthem,” said Assistant District Attorney Matthew Brittenburg. “If they failed to meet a quota, he would withhold drugs from them or he would threaten to withhold the drugs from them.
“He used that fear in order to keep them in compliance, in order to keep them working, to push them to work harder and make more money,” Brittenburg added.
Brittenburg alleged when the fear ofwithdrawal didn’t work Steele would use physical violence against some victims, including pistolwhipping one woman.
Court documents list seven women that Steele allegedly forced into prostitution using drugs, threats and physical and sexual abuse to keep them under this thumb.
Two of the women testified about how fearful they were of Steele. Several others were too afraid, Brittenburg said, to come to court and confront Steele.
“That really speaks to the level of control, the level of fear that he instilled in them right from day one,” Brittenburg said.
Steele, who was represented by defense lawyer Joseph O’Donnell Jr., suggested in court that he was trying to help troubled women by providing them shelter and help them get clean of drugs.
“All the evidence showed that he plied them with drugs over a long period of time and used the fear of withdrawal to keep them within the fold. This was not a personwho ever transported a girl to go and apply for a job interview, he transported them to hotels in Horsham and in Delaware County in order to have sex with strangers and he was going to keep every dime that they earned,” Brittenburg said.
Court papers indicate Montgomery County detectives had been investigating Steele for two years. The bureau was assisted by the FBI, state police, as well as local police from Lower Pottsgrove, Upper Moreland, Upper Merion, Horsham, Tinicum and East Whiteland. The district attorney’s offices in Philadelphia, Chester and Delaware counties also assisted in the investigation.
“The defendant has re- cruited, enticed, solicited, harbored, transported, maintained and provided individual women who are subject to involuntary, sexual servitude,” county Detective Joseph P. Kelly Jr. wrote in court papers.
One 27-year-old woman told police she moved in with Steele after shewas released from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility, and that Steele took her social security card and provided her with a supply of cocaine to keep her from leaving. The woman said Steele kept a short leash on the women living with him.
Victims told detectives Steele “had rules in the house,” and the women were not allowed to leave the house while he was working overnight. Steele allegedly had surveillance cameras inside and outside his residence.
The women were given locations and prices for sex acts that they were ordered to perform for money. One victim told police that when another woman did not bring home the specified amount of money, Steele “screamed at her and did not provide her with heroin as punishment,” according to the arrest affidavit.
“The sole purpose of the defendant’s conduct is to further his own personal financial gain with total disregard for the welfare of the women he victimizes,” Kelly alleged in the arrest affidavit.
Some victims told detectives that Steele also forced them to participate in sex acts with him.
Other victims told police Steele beat them. One victim was beaten so badly “she couldn’t work for a week until the bruises on her face healed,” according to the criminal complaint.