New Jersey woman pleads guilty to prostituting 16-year-old girl from NY to NJ on Backpage.com

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TRENTON –A woman pleaded guilty today to a human trafficking charge for her role in prostituting a 16-year-old girl who was trafficked from New York to New Jersey as part of a prostitution ring that advertised on Backpage.com.

Jessica Copeland, 29, of Newark, N.J. – who went by the nickname “China White” and acted as boss or “bottom” over the prostitutes in the ring – pleaded guilty today to a charge of second-degree facilitating human trafficking before Superior Court Judge Robert M. Vinci in Bergen County. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Copeland be sentenced to six years in state prison, including three years of parole ineligibility. Copeland is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 25.

Five defendants were indicted in the case in April 2015 as a result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the South Hackensack Police Department. They were charged with conspiring to traffic the 16-year-old girl from Brooklyn, N.Y., to northern New Jersey to make her work as a prostitute at motels in South Hackensack and Clifton. Glen Bowman Sr., 42, of Newark, N.J., and his wife, Ernestine Bowman, 32, of Orange, N.J., allegedly ran the ring. Ernestine Bowman pleaded guilty in December to second-degree facilitating human trafficking. She is awaiting sentencing and faces a recommended sentence of 10 years in prison, with 39 months of parole ineligibility. Glen Bowman Sr. faces pending first-degree charges of conspiracy, human trafficking and promoting prostitution of a minor. The couple’s son, Glen Bowman Jr., 23, of Brooklyn, N.Y., previously pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to promote prostitution and faces a recommended sentence of seven years in prison. Tokina Williams, 33, of Raleigh, N.C., pleaded guilty to second-degree promoting prostitution.

“This defendant threatened a 16-year-old girl with violence to keep her trapped in a hellish life of sexual slavery,” said Attorney General Porrino. “This is a classic case of human trafficking, in which the perpetrators isolated and intimidated a vulnerable victim so they could exploit her for their profit. I commend the South Hackensack Police and our attorneys in the Division of Criminal Justice for rescuing this victim and bringing those responsible to justice.”

“We’ll continue to partner with law enforcement at all levels to detect and aggressively prosecute human traffickers,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge members of the public to call us if they see young women in suspicious circumstances or other indicators of potential human trafficking. Only with your help can we bring these crimes out of the shadows and save victims like the teenage girl in this case.”

Attorney General Porrino and Director Honig urged anyone who suspects that individuals are engaged in sex- or labor-related human trafficking to confidentially report such activity by calling the Division of Criminal Justice’s 24-hour NJ Human Trafficking Hotline 877-986-7534.

“Our department has been committed to conducting these undercover operations to flush out the criminality of prostitution and narcotics in our motels,” said Chief Joseph Terraccino of the South Hackensack Police Department. “We remain committed to rescuing these victims from the underworld and arresting the predators who are responsible.”

Deputy Attorneys General Malfitano and Picard are prosecuting the case for the Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit, within the Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Annmarie Taggart and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis. The investigation was conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by Detective Timothy Savage, Sgt. Noelle Holl, Lt. Lisa Cawley and the other detectives in the Human Trafficking Unit. Attorney General Porrino thanked the South Hackensack Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Joseph Terraccino, for their investigation and referral. Capt. Robert Kaiser, Lt. Robert Chinchar and Detective James Donatello led the investigation for the South Hackensack Police Department.

The investigation began as an undercover operation by the South Hackensack Police Department targeting a prostitution ring that advertised on Backpage.com. Such rings typically offer “escort services” and display nude or semi-nude photos of young women. An undercover officer responded to an advertisement that included a photo of a very young-looking female with her breasts exposed. The officer phoned the number in the ad on Oct. 1, 2014, and a woman told him that he could have “full sex” for $160 cash at a motel on Route 46 in South Hackensack.

The undercover officer was directed to a room, where a teenage girl answered the door. She repeated that the price of “full sex” was $160 and accepted $160 cash from the undercover officer. He asked why the bathroom door was closed and learned there was a woman in the bathroom, who turned out to be Tokina Williams. The teenage girl invited Williams to come out and told her that the client had paid to have sex with both of them. At that time, backup officers entered and arrested Williams and the teenage girl. The teenage girl was determined to be a 16-year-old who was reported missing out of New York State. She was the young female whose breasts were exposed in the photo in the ad on Backpage.com.

Further investigation revealed that the defendants had conspired to lure the 16-year-old victim into a life of prostitution. The victim met Glen Bowman Jr., in Brooklyn, N.Y., several months earlier, and he allegedly conspired with his father, Glen Bowman Sr., to traffic her to New Jersey to work in the prostitution ring. It is alleged that both Glen Bowman Sr. and Copeland threatened the 16-year-old with physical violence if she did not follow their rules and perform to their expectations. The defendants drove the victim and other prostitutes to hotels and motels in South Hackensack, Clifton and other locations in northern New Jersey, where they serviced clients. At the end of the day, the defendants picked them up and collected the money they had been paid.