NJ couple charged with forcing teen to work as prostitute in area hotels

A New Jersey couple has been charged with human trafficking for allegedly forcing a teenage girl to work as a prostitute at area hotels.

Prosecutors say the victim's services were advertised on Backpage.com.

Ashley Gardener, 30, and Breon Mickens, 26, both of Trenton, N.J., were arrested in January. On Wednesday, the couple was charged with Conspiracy, Human Trafficking, Endangering the Welfare of a Child and related offenses.

In January, authorities responded to a report of a young woman walking along Interstate 295 in Lawrence Township. Troopers located the 17-year-old victim, who reported she escaped from a hotel where she was being forced to perform sex acts.

Investigators determined that Gardener and Mickens allegedly transported the victim to hotels against her will to engage in prostitution. For three days before she was rescued, Gardener allegedly forced the victim to engage in sexual intercourse with approximately four to 15 men per day.

The victim was allegedly deprived of food, given marijuana to smoke and prohibited from calling her family.

Gardener and Mickens are also accused of forcing the victim to engage in prostitution on several other occasions between Dec. 27 and Jan. 11 at various hotels in the Mercer County area, refusing to let her leave the hotel for a period of two to three days and forcing her to have sex with multiple men each day. On some occasions, Gardener would allegedly stay in the room with the victim.

Prosecutors say Mickens acted as the "muscle" for the operation to ensure payment was received inside the hotel room. The victim never received any money from the alleged clients.

Gardener and Mickens have been detained pre-trial in Mercer County Jail.

"Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable, depriving victims of their freedom, isolating them from any benevolent support network, and forcing them into a miserable life of slavery - in this case, sexual slavery," said Attorney General Grewal.

"Trafficking anyone, man or woman, boy or girl, is a violation of basic human rights--it is appalling and indecent, and it will not be tolerated in New Jersey," said Colonel Patrick Callahan, Acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is urged to report it by calling the Division of Criminal Justice's Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-END-NJ-HT.