A Ventnor City man was arrested and charged with human trafficking for allegedly running a male prostitution ring out of his apartment, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced late Monday morning, Oct. 22.
The arrest was made Friday night shortly after 11 p.m., Chiesa said.
Marc A. Branch, 39, was arrested at his North Newport Avenue apartment by detectives with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit and members of the FBI Human Trafficking Task Force in Atlantic City, Chiesa said.
He was charged with first degreee human trafficking, second degree sexual assault, second degree prostituting a minor, third degree operating a house of prostitution and third degree promoting prostitution, according to Chiesa, who anticipates further charges will be filed.
He has been lodged in Atlantic County Jail on $250,000 bail. No court appearance has been scheduled at this time, Chiesa said.
Upon further investigation of Branch's apartment following the arrest, detectives seized two cell phones, a computer, drug paraphernalia, numerous pornographic videos and magazines, and four imitation firearms, Chiesa said.
Branch is charged with luring "vulnerable young men" who were estranged from their families, ranging in age from their teens to their early 20s with promises of drugs, money, friendship and, in some instances, shelter, Chiesa said.
He allegedly fueled their habits by giving them drugs and alcohol in order to control them and prostitute them to male clients, who paid up to $200 to engage in sexual activity, Chiesa said. Branch shared the money with the victims, in some instances, according to Chiesa.
The sexual assault charge stems from an incident in which Branch allegedly provided a male under 18 years old with drugs and allowed a male client to sexually assault him, Chiesa said.
Branch allegedly solicited clients by posting nude photos of the victims on Craigslist, Chiesa said. He also allegedly used Facebook, Twitter and other websites, Chiesa said.
“The allegations in this case fit a classic pattern for human sexual trafficking in which a predator enslaves vulnerable victims in prostitution by weakening them with drugs and isolating them from any protective support,” Chiesa said in a release issued on Monday. “When we developed information about Branch’s alleged crimes, we moved quickly to arrest him and rescue his alleged victims. The new Human Trafficking Unit we formed earlier this year in the Division of Criminal Justice will continue to cooperate with partners like the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to aggressively investigate any cases of human trafficking in New Jersey.”
“We’re continuing our investigation into the defendant’s alleged human trafficking, his alleged prostitution of one or more minors, and his alleged online solicitation of clients for his commercial sex trade enterprise,” Director of the Division of Criminal Justice Stephen J. Taylor said in the release.
Branch faces 20 years to life in state prison and a fine of $200,000 for the human trafficking charges; 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000 for the second degree charges; and 3-5 years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000 for the third degree charges.
Branch was charged by complaint-warrant. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment, Chiesa said. The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, Chiesa said.
The investigation is being led and conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Andrew M. Butchko, chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau, Detective Naike Kudlik, Sgt. Keith Stopko, Detective Eric Barnes, Detective Brian Christensen and Detective Terry Shaw of the Human Trafficking Unit, under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Detectives Alex M. Adkins. Detective Scott Caponi and Lt. Ritchie King of the Division of Criminal Justice also assisted. Special Agent Dan Garrabrant, head of the FBI Human Trafficking Task Force in Atlantic City, led the investigation for the FBI, Chiesa said. The Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office and New Jersey Human Services Police assisted as members of the Task Force, according to Chiesa. The Ventnor Police Department and Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office also assisted with the investigation, Chiesa said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Medford Police Department and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office also contributed to making the arrest, Chiesa said.
Chiesa and Taylor noted that the Division of Criminal Justice maintains a 24-hour NJ Human Trafficking Hotline: 877-986-7534. In addition, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in New Jersey works with out-of-state partners to share information on crimes against children, including distribution and use of child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C., maintains a national, toll-free tip line for the public to report crimes against children: 1-800-THE-LOST, or 1-800-843-5678. That tip line brings leads to the New Jersey ICAC on sexual crimes against children.