NYC man charged with sex trafficking
Joint undercover operation included ads placed on social media.
An undercover investigation targeting human trafficking and prostitution led to the arrest of a New York City man in Scranton, state police said.
Justin S. Sheppard, 32, was taken into custody Sept. 17 in South Scranton after investigators observed him waiting outside a hotel for a woman believed to have been victimized by trafficking, police said.
He remained in the Lackawanna County Prison on $75,000 bail while awaiting a preliminary hearing Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. on trafficking in individuals and other charges.
The arrest was the result of a joint undercover operation by state police, the district attorney’s office, the state attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security aimed at human trafficking in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
After ads placed on social media platforms resulted in dozens of contacts from individuals looking to buy and sell sex, five female sex workers and three male buyers were detained and interviewed, according to state police.
Police determined at least one woman exhibited signs of being a trafficking victim and, based on the investigation, troopers approached a car in a hotel parking lot where they say Sheppard waited for her.
Sheppard drove away but was later pulled over on Davis Street, police said. He admitted giving the woman a ride to the hotel but denied knowing her.
The investigation into Sheppard continues, and investigators believe there may be additional victims, state police said.
District Attorney Mark Powell said sex trafficking victims are often people who suffer from substance abuse disorder and traffickers exploit that vulnerability.
In addition to trafficking, Sheppard is charged with involuntary servitude, criminal use of a communication facility, promoting prostitution and dealing in unlawful proceeds.