Arrests made during a routine undercover prostitution sting have helped lift the veil on a large-scale commercial sexual exploitation enterprise with ties throughout the state of Pennsylvania, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Kenneth Crowell and Barry Schiff allegedly coerced 6 women into sexual servitude by falsely promising them a viable means of employment, only to find themselves subject to frequent death threats and physical abuse at the hands of the two men. According to Lancaster Online, Cowell was taken into police custody near Chicago in late November, while Schiff is currently incarcerated in York County Prison. After a grand jury heard detailed testimony from the pair’s alleged victims, Crowell and Schiff have been charged with trafficking in individuals, corrupt organizations, involuntary servitude, conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver, prostitution and related offenses.
Schiff was originally arrested in March of 2016 after police responded to an online advertisement they suspected to be prostitution-related. When the police arrived at the arranged meeting place in York, the woman from the advertisement allegedly informed authorities that she was being held against her will. Further information gleaned from this arrest revealed that Schiff had previously paid the woman’s $1,400 bail. According to police, Schiff told the woman she needed to “work” for him in order to pay off the debt by having sex with him and their male roommates. When she refused, Schiff allegedly threatened her life according to documents obtained by the York Daily Record. Police also allege that Schiff worked for a man he called “Kenny” who he claimed to be in charge of the commercial sexual exploitation enterprise he was involved in.
In April of this year, according to grand jury presentments, police conducted another undercover sting where they agreed to meet a woman from a Backpage.com advertisement at the Cork Factory Hotel in Lancaster. There, the woman allegedly told authorities that she didn’t feel safe and wanted to “get out” of her current situation. The woman disclosed that she had been recruited by Crowell and Schiff while she was working at gentleman’s club in York. Authorities also allege Schiff bragged about selling pills and heroin to the women working for him as a means of control, according to Lancaster Online.
The grand jury testimony against the men alleged a shocking pattern of physical abuse committed by the men. One victim testified that Schiff told her he would “chop her up into little pieces and throw her in the river” after she tried to quit. Another woman told the court that Schiff once slammed her head into a bucket full of dirty water and broken pieces of glass. Through the collaborative work of the state attorney general’s office and Pennsylvania State Police, with assistance from Northern York County Regional police, Dallas, Texas police, Millville New Jersey police, the North Star Initiative of Lancaster and the Salvation Army of Greater Philadelphia Anti-Human Trafficking Program charges against Schiff and Cowell will soon be tried by Senior Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino.
The CSE Institute is immensely proud of the work undertaken by the various agencies involved in the arresting and charging of Crowell and Schiff. Most importantly, we would like to thank the victims who bravely testified about their horrific experiences to the grand jury. Their stories are unfortunately not dissimilar to the daily atrocities experienced by trafficking victims throughout the state, country, and world. The CSE Institute will provide updates regarding this case it continues to unfold.
All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University.