According to the Reading Eagle, Nathaniel Pagan, was arrested and charged with human trafficking following a police sting operation. Pennsylvania’s human trafficking statute states, “a person commits a felony of the second degree if the person, (1) recruits, entices, solicits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, or maintains an individual if the person knows or recklessly disregards that the individual will be subject to involuntary servitude or (2) knowingly benefits financially or receives anything of value from any act that facilitates any activity described in paragraph 1.” Additionally, section 3012(b) of the statute codifies thirteen factors which effectively constitute an equivalent to the federal law’s requirement for a showing of, “force, fraud, and coercion” including (1) causing or threatening to cause serious harm to the individual, (2) physically restraining or threatening to physically restrain another, (5) taking or retaining an individual’s personal property as a means of coercion, and (7) extortion.”
The media reported that the undercover investigation was initiated after a sex buyer reportedly was beaten and robbed by two men after responding to an online advertisement for sex. Spring Township Detective Steve Brock arranged a meeting at a hotel with a woman identified online as the same woman the sex buyer met prior to being robbed. Officers found Pagan waiting in a car outside of the hotel where they met and questioned the woman. Upon questioning, the woman alleged that Pagan beat her, controlled her, would not allow her to have a cellphone, and took all of the money she received from sex buyers. Police have reason to believe Pagan drove the woman to the sex buyer’s house on the day of the robbery.
If the allegations are true, Pagan’s conduct appears to meet the means elements of an involuntary servitude offense, in particular causing serious harm, physically restraining, taking personal property, and extorting the victim, among other potential charges. Presently, Pagan is charged with three violations of involuntary servitude and six violations of trafficking in individuals, three of which are linked to methods Pagan used to recruit and entice the woman into prostitution, and three of which are linked to Pagan knowingly benefitting financially from prostituting the woman. Pagan also faces twenty-five other charges, including three counts under 18 Pa. C.S.A. 5902(e), the criminal act of buying sex.
The CSE Institute commends the efforts of the Berks County District Attorney’s Office and the Spring Township Police Department for their handling of this case. Law enforcement officials across the state have caught on that traffickers commonly use websites like backpage.com to advertise commercial sex. Here, law enforcement used information from backpage.com to implement an investigation which ultimately located the trafficker and the victim.
Based on media reports, it is unclear whether charges for prostitution were filed against the woman recovered during the operation. We are hopeful that the Berks County District Attorney’s Office exercised appropriate discretion and chose not to charge any prostituted people in connection with this case. Sex trafficking is a buyer driven operation, and the more we bring traffickers and sex buyers to justice, the more progress we will make to end sex trafficking.