NYC man charged with sex traf­fick­ing

Joint un­der­cover op­er­a­tion in­cluded ads placed on so­cial me­dia.

The Times-Tribune - - LOCAL - BY DAVID SIN­GLE­TON STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: ds­in­gle­ton@timessham­rock.com; 570-348-9132

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.

SHEPPARD

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