Sex trade op­er­a­tor jailed for hu­man traf­fick­ing

The Phoenix - - LOCAL NEWS - By Car­lHessler Jr. chessler @21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Mont­coCourtNews on Twit­ter

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.

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