FALLS CHURCH, Va. - A woman who says she was lured from Costa Rica into a Virginia-based sex-trafficking ring says a former police chief and three other officers were clients of the enterprise and allowed it to operate.
A federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia, began hearing testimony Tuesday in the civil trial against the four officers, including Edwin Roessler, the former chief in Fairfax County, the state’s most populous county.
The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, worked under the supervision of Hazel Sanchez from 2010 until 2015. Sanchez was later convicted of running a commercial sex operation.
On Thursday, Jane Doe testified about the injuries she suffered during her five years in the Virginia-based sex trafficking ring.
Her voice trembled as she described indignities suffered at the hands of clients of the prostitution ring. Eventually she broke down and sobbed uncontrollably — the words "I’m so ashamed" barely audible between the cries — forcing a temporary halt to the trial.
The former chief, Ed Roessler, and the other three officers all deny the allegations, though two former officers, Michael Barbazette and Jason Mardocco, admitted they were clients of Sanchez and resigned from the force after their phone numbers were found on Sanchez’s phone.
Doe says Sanchez forced her into prostitution after luring her from Costa Rica with the promise of work as a nanny and a high-end escort who would go out on dates with wealthy clients but not necessarily be required to have sex with them.
In reality, according to Sanchez’s guilty plea, women were required to have sex with as many as 17 men a day, including dangerous and degrading sex acts.
Doe says the officers enabled her trafficking by allowing Sanchez’s ring to operate and that police officers are well aware of the connections between trafficking and commercial sex operations.
The lawyer for Roessler and James Baumstark, a former Fairfax County police captain who is now deputy chief in Asheville, North Carolina, said the allegations against her clients are "preposterous."
"It’s made up out of whole cloth," said their lawyer, Kimberly Baucom.
Roessler and Baumstark were not initially defendants in the lawsuit. Baucom said they were added to the case only after a disgruntled Fairfax officer who worked on sex-trafficking cases came forward to Doe’s lawyer after the initial lawsuit received publicity.
The initial accusations against Roessler accused him of seeking to thwart that officer’s sex-trafficking probe. On Tuesday, for the first time publicly, Doe’s lawyer, Victor Glasberg, alleged that Roessler and Baumstark were also both clients of Sanchez’s operation.
Glasberg said the defendants "covered up the Sanchez enterprise until (Doe) went to the FBI and it was shut down."
Doe went to the FBI in 2015 after she said she was finally able to escape from Sanchez. Doe said Sanchez controlled her by confiscating her passport and threatening to turn her in to immigration authorities if she didn’t work as a prostitute.
So far in the trial, the jury has heard testimony from Doe and another woman who says she was trafficked. Both identified all four officers as men they had seen in the various hotels and apartments in northern Virginia where Sanchez would set up shop.
They jury also heard from a decorated former officer, William Woolf, who was assigned to investigate sex trafficking as part of a multi-jurisdictional task force. Woolf testified that Barbazette, his supervisor, interfered in his investigations and that another senior officer who is the fourth defendant, James Baumstark, was indifferent when Woolf expressed concerns about how he was being managed.
Defense lawyers have cited evidence they say demonstrates that Doe was not a trafficking victim but a willing prostitute.
Doe has acknowledged that when she was recruited to come to the U.S. from Costa Rica in 2010 that she was willing to have sex for money.
But Doe said Sanchez’s recruiter told her that she would primarily be doing nanny work and housekeeping in the U.S. Work as an escort would be a side gig, and she would go on dates with wealthy clients and could choose whether to have sex with any particular client, she said.
Both Doe and the other woman who testified were also questioned extensively on why they returned to work for Sanchez on multiple trips back and forth between Costa Rica and the U.S.
Both women testified that Sanchez threatened their families, showing them pictures of their children at home and at school, and implying that she had operatives in Costa Rica who could harm them. Both women also said they did not believe they could flee to police because they believed police were protecting Sanchez.
The trial is ongoing. Lawyers for the four officers have not yet presented their case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.