SOUTH HACKENSACK, N.J. -- A member of a human trafficking ring admitted her role Wednesday in prostituting a 16-year-old girl at motels in Clifton and elsewhere.
Going by the name "China White," 29-year-old Jessica Copeland acted as boss or “bottom” over the prostitutes in the ring, which advertised on Backpage.com, an investigation by state authorities and South Hackensack detectives found.
The young victim -- who'd been reported missing -- was forced to work as a prostitute Monday through Friday while remaining captive in an apartment in the Bronx on the weekends, authorities said.
In exchange for her plea to a single charge of facilitating human trafficking, Copeland will be sentenced in Hackensack on Oct. 25 to six years in state prison -- and be eligible for parole in three.
Authorities were also hoping for a guilty plea from 42-year-old Glen Bowman Sr. of Newark -- who they said ran the operation with his wife, Ernestine Bowman, 32, of Orange -- but that hasn't been forthcoming.
Ernestine Bowman took a human trafficking guilty plea last December. The couple's son, Glen Bowman Jr., 23, of Brooklyn, previously pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution, as did a fifth defendant, Tokina Williams, 33, of Raleigh, NC.
New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino commended South Hackensack police and attorneys in the state Division of Criminal Justice for "rescuing this victim and bringing those responsible to justice.”
Those responsible "isolated and intimidated a vulnerable victim," keeping her trapped in a "hellish life of slavery," so they could "exploit her for their profit," he said.
State authorities singled out South Hackensack Police Capt. Robert Kaiser, Lt. Robert Chinchar and Detective James Donatello for praise.
“Our department has been committed to conducting these undercover operations to flush out the criminality of prostitution and narcotics in our motels,” South Hackensack Police Chief Joseph Terraccino said. “We remain committed to rescuing these victims from the underworld and arresting the predators who are responsible.”
It began when an undercover borough police officer responded to Backpage.com advertisement of a very young girl with her breasts exposed and was told he could have “full sex” with her for $160 cash at a motel on Route 46 in South Hackensack.
When the officer arrived for the motel “appointment,” the girl answered the door. He asked why the bathroom door was closed, and discovered a woman there identified as Tonika Williams.
The girl invited Williams to come out and told her that the client had paid to have sex with both of them, authorities said.
At that point, backups converged on the room and Williams and the girl were taken into custody.
Soon after, Ernestine Bowman arrived at the motel to pick up the others and was arrested, as well.
The youngster was turned over to New Jersey child protection workers, local police told CLIFFVIEW PILOT at the time.
The investigation found that the girl was being trafficked for sex by the three Bowmans, with Copeland keeping an eye on her and driving her to work at various hotels.
Copeland and the elder Bowman also threatened the girl with violence “if she did not follow their rules and perform to their expectations,” an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Newark says.
At the end of each day, it says, either Copeland or other defendants picked the various girls up and collected the day’s proceeds.
Williams also worked as a prostitute while supervising the girl and collecting her proceeds at the end of the day, the indicdtment says.
Glen Bowman Sr. and Copeland were arrested in August 2014 in New York on an indictment filed by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office charging them with sexually trafficking two adult women in New York and New Jersey in 2012 and 2013,
Ernestine Bowman then took on a greater leadership role in the ring, authorities charged -- making hotel reservations, driving the 16-year-old victim to hotels and giving her with condoms and lingerie to wear. She also collected the money, they said.
Deputy Attorney General Brandy T. Malfitano presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit. The DCJ investigation was conducted for Detective Timothy Savage, Sgt. Noelle Holl, Lt. Lisa Cawley and the other detectives in the Human Trafficking Unit.
Deputy Attorneys General Brandy Malfitano and Jamie Picard are prosecuting the defendants. Malfitano took Copeland's guilty plea.
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State authorities urge anyone who suspects sex- or labor-related human trafficking to confidentially notify the Division of Criminal Justice through its 24-hour NJ Human Trafficking Hotline: 877-986-7534
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