August 6, 2015

Human Trafficking Part 6: Langley Park residents say brothels operate in plain sight yet elude PG police

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This is the sixth and last part of a five-day investigative series on human trafficking in Maryland Capital News Service produced by student journalists and professional editors of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland College Park. 

By Natalie Tomlin and Ana Mulero

Capital News Service

Maria Sorto, originally from El Salvador, had just moved into an apartment complex in Langley Park when she was approached by a man with a business proposition: He wanted to operate a brothel out of her new home.

“He said, ‘We can become partners,’” Sorto said in Spanish.  “I told him no — that in my apartment, I was not going to do that….”

But others were willing. On Friday nights, after receiving their paychecks, men would swarm into the apartment buildings in search of drugs and prostitutes, she said.

Sorto moved to Hyattsville a couple months ago.

Rife with prostitution and human trafficking

Community members and law enforcement officials say Langley Park, located just inside the Capital Beltway in Prince George’s County, is rife with prostitution and human trafficking.

“Throw a rock anywhere in Langley Park and you get a brothel,” said Christine White, a University of Maryland criminologist and chair of the research committee for the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force.

Even so, law enforcement officials have said they’ve had trouble catching traffickers there, citing the language barrier, elusive perpetrators and scared victims.

More than three-quarters of the Langley Park population of nearly 19,000 are Hispanic or Latino, and 70 percent are foreign-born residents, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report. It’s a landing spot for Central American immigrants who are here illegally.

Maryland Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Yasser said Latino brothels are sometimes hidden within the community, with traffickers changing locations frequently.

However, to residents of Langley Park, amid a vast sea of low-rise apartment buildings, there’s little that’s hidden about the problem.

The Rev. Roberto Cortés, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hyattsville, said church members and friends complain frequently about prostitution and sex trafficking in Langley Park and the surrounding area.  On occasion, he has heard from a victim too.

Cortés recalled that a woman from Langley Park walked into his church about a year ago and told him that she was forced to work as a prostitute in Langley Park and had stayed in the business to support her family.

“She was thrown into it and she was forced into it but then she needed the money,” he said.

Cortés never saw the woman again.

Langley Park a starting point

Trafficking Langley Park graph

He said Langley Park often serves as a starting point for newcomers rather than a place to establish a family. Many residents remain quiet and tolerate the illegal activity within their neighborhoods because they view Langley Park as a temporary living situation, he said.

Alvarado Diaz was one of several residents interviewed by Capital News Service who said he was concerned about brothels in the apartment complexes. He said prostitution in the area is just one of many disruptive problems faced by the community. There are gangs, and the crime rate is high, he said.

Diaz has lived in Langley Park for 35 years and has spent 18 of those years working as a carpenter for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. He moved to Maryland from Santa Tecla, El Salvador, when he was 15 years old and three years later began living in what Diaz described as a “lovely” neighborhood of mostly elderly residents who genuinely cared about one another.

Today the community is younger, less educated and many residents are here illegally, he said. “They come here, they don’t have papers, nobody wants to hire them, so it’s easy money.”

Victims are reluctant to come forward, police and advocates say, because many are here illegally and they blame themselves for their situation.

Undocumented must make money

The need for undocumented residents to earn a living, coupled with the demand for commercial sex, is what keeps the business thriving despite community-wide disapproval, police and advocates say.

Many residents said brothel managers manage to advertise while evading authorities through the use of business cards that traffickers pass around the Langley Park community.

Manuel Quinteros, a former Langley Park resident and Sorto’s son, said he has seen brothels come and go in his former apartment building. He said he was once given a strange business card, which he suspected was a covert advertisement for sex.

“I got [handed] a card here in Langley Park and they said, ‘If you want a delivery, the girls will do it,’” said Quinteros. “This phone number appears as something false…it’s like a restaurant but it’s not. It is something else. It’s a cover.”

Quinteros said many pimps have stopped passing out business cards because authorities have caught on to this method. Others recounted how men knock on the windows of residences and offer sexual services from women.

Operations move frequently

Special Assistant U. S. Attorney LisaMarie Freitas said traffickers in Langley Park elude investigators by moving their operations frequently from apartment to apartment.

“These pimps don’t stay in the same locations with the girls,” she said. “They move around. If a repeat customer wants to come back to that girl, he has to search around.”

Getting the cooperation of victims is difficult, because many don’t speak English and some are in the United States illegally.  When victims are willing to testify against their traffickers, extensive resources are needed to help guide them through the prosecution, said Donnell Turner, a deputy state’s attorney for Prince George’s County.

  • HisOwnValet

    “Some”????

  • ksteve

    Providing all participants in this activity (which seems to be a way of making a living) are consenting adults, why should it be illegal? In such cases, I’d say it shouldn’t be and that some people should just mind their own business.

    • Dale McNamee

      And if such was going on in your neighborhood,on your block next door to you… Would you feel the same ?

      So,what makes the people who have to put up with it any different than you in that regard ?

      Also, if this isn’t happening in your neighborhood,why not move into Langley Park and tell us how you like it ?

      Do you support women’s rights ?

      Do you think that enslaving women for “consentual activities” ( especially when the woman doesn’t consent and is threatened unless she does ) ?

      Also, what about when the woman is raped,brutalized,sodomized,and killed ?

      Your “consenting adults” arguement is irrelevant…

      And those who are affected by this have every right to mind what’s going on…

      • ksteve

        (1) If sex for pay between consenting adults were occurring in my neighborhood (and it might be), I would consider it none of my business, Mr. McNamee (and certainly none of yours).
        (2) See (1),
        (3) I’ll decide where I want to live and don’t need any suggestions from the likes of you, Mr. McNamee.
        (4) I absolutely support women’s rights. I also support the ERA and the right to same-sex marriage.

        (5) I can see you need to retake spelling classes, Mr. McNamee. It’s “consensual” rather than “consentual” and “argument” rather than “arguement.” And NO, I do not support such non-consensual activities as enslavement, rape, brutalization, sodomization, or murder. Did you miss classes in logic, too?
        (6) I contend that neither you nor I have a right to know or control what sexual activities between consenting adults may be happening in a neighbor’s abode.

        • Dale McNamee

          Ah,the insults !

          I was hoping for a more mature,intelligent response from you…

          Regarding point #1…Would you want a brothel and the,attending criminal activity in your neighborhood ?

          Regarding point #4… How can you support prostitution if you are aware of the life of the sex slaves who are abused and brutalized by their pimps and “johns”, infected with diseases that they didn’t want,etc., and YOU SUPPORT Womens’ Rights ?

          As for “making a living”… The woman or girl gets very little of the money they earn their pimp or mistress gets the bulk of the money…

          And this is “OK” with you, O supporter of “Womens ‘ Rights” ? And, enslaving women to provide sex is “OK”, right ?

          Point #6… What about molesting one’s child, raping he or she,inviting “friends” over and pimping that kid out, sexually assaulting one’s wife or any woman in the bedroom,etc. ?

          I guess that those activities are “OK” with you…

          After all, sex is the most important thing to you. Not the degregation of the victims…

          I feel the same about any criminal activity in my neighborhood…

          • ksteve

            I tried to explain my views as clearly as I could, so that even someone like you might be able to understand them. But either you don’t or you’re pretending you don’t. I’m talking about activity between consenting adults and you keep dragging in activity that is NOT consensual and which does not involve adults that I have NEVER said I supported. I’m not going to waste further time going back and forth with you.

          • Dale McNamee

            What you fail to grasp is that “consentual behavior” between adults affects others who aren’t involved…But, you ignore my comments and apparently don’t care for those who live around such activities…

            Behavior choices bear consequences beyond the “consenting adults”…

            I guess that concept escapes you…

            Likewise, I won’t play “ring around the rosey” with you either…

  • citizensadvocate

    There is nothing free-choice or free-market about sex trafficking in Langley Park. The county and state have turned over rule of this alien settler ghetto to CASA de Maryland, giving them massive subsidies to provide illiterate, exploitable foreigners with degenerate pandilla social values with sanctuary in Prince George’s County.

    Access to affordable prostitution and drugs, exemption from US laws and taxation, assistance in displacing black Americans in the job market, and support in sending their tax-free earnings back to El Savagery is what CASA de MD constituents want.

    Don’t expect the political establishment to complain. The Demos are getting caste-based tax-funded benefits and patronage; the GOP gets cheap labor and opportunity avoid hiring uppity AA’s while claiming it supports diversity, which their business wing loves. Langley Park is owned by Southern Management Company. CASA de MD is their pimp.

  • Santino West

    Illegal aliens offer only crime, poverty, and disease to America.