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Virginia Police Chief Allegedly Covered Up Sex Trafficking Ring

Fox 5 DC has reported that a lawsuit has recently been amended to include the involvement of the Fairfax County Police Department, located at 12300 Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy, Fairfax, VA 22033.

The initial lawsuit was filed in October 2021 by a Costa Rican woman alleging she was forced to work as a prostitute from 2010 until 2015. The 43-year-old was trafficked from her home country and had her passports and other personal documents taken from her. According to The Daily Beast, she is among many who fell into sex trafficking under ring leader Hazel Marie Sanchez Cerdas. Cerdas would threaten to harm the victims and their families if they did not do as she told them. Cerdas was later convicted of felony sex trafficking charges and sentenced to five years.

Police Involvement in Sex Trafficking

The victim alleged that she was forced to perform sex acts for multiple Fairfax County police officers, who would, in turn, offer them a heads up when law enforcement was conducting raids. A court order named two police officers involved, Michael Barbazette and Jason Mardocco. Their tips would allow the trafficking ring to pause advertisements on sites like backpage.com when police conducted the stings.

The Cover-Up

William Woolf was the former officer assigned to work on the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force when the victim was being trafficked. He conducted interviews with many trafficking victims, which led him to believe many of the officers were involved in providing law enforcement protection.

Michael Barbazette, one of his supervisors, became worried about Woolf’s findings and attempted to deter him by denying travel requests, refusing overtime, and requesting reports detailing his daily activities. Woolf tried to complain to another supervisor but was told to “keep [his] mouth shut.” He was even reassigned to work runaway and child pornography cases. Following his reassignment, Woolf claimed the Chief of Police, Edwin Roessler, called him to ensure he was “willing to play ball” and not revisit the issue of sex trafficking. He later resigned in 2017.

FBI Investigation

After the victim filed the complaint, the FBI accessed the victim’s phone records and found the numbers of both Barbazette and Mardocco. They reported finding their numbers in other victims’ phone records as well. As the case continued, the officers resigned from their positions but were allowed to keep their pensions. The Fairfax Chief of Police, Edwin Roessler, resigned in 2021 amid the allegations of his involvement.

Justice For Sex Trafficking Victims

Recently our team sat down with experienced sex trafficking attorney Kevin Biniazan of Breit Biniazan P.C. Kevin represents victims of sex abuse, including trafficking victims in the state of Virginia. Here is an excerpt from the discussion:

Laurence: What is the definition of sex trafficking in the state of Virginia?

Kevin: This definition varies by state, but in Virginia, it pertains to any victim being taken from their home and forced to perform sexual activity. This could involve victims being taken to another state or another country, but this is not always the case. Often, the traffickers use force or fraud to coerce their victims. Sadly, when victims are taken far away, they are often threatened with violence, or their families are threatened.

Laurence: How can a civil lawsuit help sex trafficking victims?

Kevin: While a criminal case may bring charges against the traffickers, a civil case will allow the victim to file against the traffickers and anyone that benefited or enabled the abuse. Sometimes other entities may have known about the crime but allowed it for personal gain. This may include the hotels, law enforcement, among many others. Trafficking survivors can hold these enablers accountable and may even be compensated for damages.

Additionally, by filing a lawsuit, trafficking survivors can help to prevent additional victims. Other victims may be encouraged to come forward as well.

Laurence: What is the statute of limitations in Virginia, and how can they affect a potential case?

Kevin: This is another area that may vary by state, but victims who wait to come forward may be denied if the abuse occurred more than 20 years ago. However, there are exceptions, so it is best to contact an experienced sex trafficking attorney. Victims do not need to be current victims, and their identities can be anonymous in order to protect them and their families.

Laurence: Why should victims contact a sex trafficking attorney?

Kevin: Sex trafficking survivors have already endured so much. An experienced attorney can offer confidential and compassionate guidance through the legal process. They know the laws to ensure their case is filed within the timeframes and can help them determine the best course of legal action for their needs. An experienced attorney will know of any extensions available for victims who have passed the statute of limitations, allowing a lawsuit to be filed.

Sources:

Fox 5 DC

The Daily Beast

https://legalherald.com/fairfax-county-va-police-chief-ed-roessler-accused-of-covering-up-officers-involvement-in-sex-trafficking-ring-lawsuit/

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