Virginia Cops Protected Sex Trafficking Ring in Return for Free Sex From Victims: Lawsuit

Fairfax County, Virginia, police officers protected a sex trafficking ring in exchange for free sex from victims, a lawsuit alleges.

The federal lawsuit was filed by civil rights attorney Victor Glasburg on behalf of a Costa Rican woman only identified as "Jane Doe" in the suit. The officers tipped off the trafficking ring before police-run sting operations to take down its advertisements on sites, such as Backpage.com, according to the lawsuit.

A defendant named in the lawsuit is former Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler, who allegedly helped cover for officers after a detective's work could have uncovered their crimes, the lawsuit says.

Glasberg said he attempted to negotiate with the county for months to avoid filing the lawsuit, as he thinks a trial will put an emotional burden upon his client. Although Glasberg is trying to get a monetary settlement for his client, he said his main focus in negotiations was to guarantee accountability for the officers.

"I begged the county to resolve this without litigation. I said, 'Let's get some accountability here,'" Glasberg said during a phone interview, according to the Associated Press. "In the end, they told me to go pound sand.…This lawsuit is going to be difficult for my client, but it's going to be a whole lot more difficult for the county."

Lawsuit, Sex Trafficking, Fairfax County Police Officers
A federal lawsuit filed by civil rights attorney Victor Glasburg on behalf of a Costa Rican woman identified only as “Jane Doe” alleges that Fairfax County, Virginia, police officers acted to protect a sex trafficking ring. In this photo, a police car is parked outside as people visit Mosaic Shopping Center Mall on October 30 in Fairfax, Virginia. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Glasberg said in an interview that police have essentially corroborated elements of the woman's allegations by providing him with the names of the officers involved in the alleged misconduct.

When Glasberg originally filed the lawsuit in October, he did not know the identities of the officers who were allegedly involved because his client was never able to learn their names. But he obtained a court order requiring the police department to identify the officers described in the complaint.

Police responded with two names: Michael O. Barbazette of Manassas, Virginia, and Jason J. Mardocco of Gainesville, Virginia. Neither officer remains on the force.

Glasberg amended his lawsuit last week to include the officers' identities.

Calls and an email to numbers and an address associated with Barbazette went unanswered. Calls and an email to numbers and an address associated with Mardocco also were not returned. Neither has a lawyer listed in court records.

Glasberg's amended lawsuit also includes allegations from a former Fairfax police detective who says his efforts to investigate sex trafficking were thwarted by Barbazette, who was a sergeant and his supervisor.

As the detective, William Woolf, pressed his efforts to investigate, he said he was threatened by high-ranking officers. He said he even received a call from Roessler, whose voice he recognized even though he did not identify himself, saying, "I need to make sure you're willing to play ball," according to the lawsuit.

Roessler resigned as chief earlier this year. During his time as chief, Roessler received praise from politicians and activists for his efforts at transparency and his willingness to support criminal charges against officers accused of wrongdoing. But officers on the force overwhelmingly supported no-confidence votes against him conducted by police unions.

Calls and an email to numbers and an address associated with Roessler were unanswered or disconnected.

According to the lawsuit, the Costa Rican woman was recruited in her native country to come to the U.S. and work as an escort, which she was told involved going on dates with wealthy men but would entail prostitution.

But when she arrived in the U.S. in late 2010, the woman who would eventually be convicted of running the trafficking ring, Hazel Sanchez Cerdas, took her passport and forced her to engage in commercial sex. When the woman said she wanted to leave, Sanchez alternately threatened to harm the woman's family in Costa Rica or tell the family she was a prostitute, according to the lawsuit.

Sanchez pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to running the prostitution ring and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Prosecutors in that case said women in Sanchez's operation were required to have sex with up to 17 customers a day and were instructed to comply with requests even for particularly humiliating or dangerous sex acts.

There was debate during the case about the degree to which women were coerced, and defense lawyers argued that the victims had incentives to lie about how they were treated. But prosecutors argued that women did indeed have their passports confiscated and were threatened if they talked about leaving.

Sanchez's lawyer said in court papers that the trafficking ring operated from 2010 through 2012, but in the civil lawsuit and in an FBI affidavit, the Costa Rican woman said she was coerced into working for Sanchez through 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lawsuit, Sex Trafficking, Fairfax County Police Officers
Attorney Victor Glasberg said he attempted to negotiate with Fairfax County, Virginia, for months to avoid filing a lawsuit regarding a sex trafficking ring, as he thinks a trial will put an emotional burden upon his client. Above, police and first responders gather at the Gannett headquarters in McLean, Virginia, on August 7, 2019. Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images