Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that 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, – 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, and his wife, Ernestine Bowman, 32, of Orange, 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.
Deputy Attorneys General Brandy Malfitano and Jamie Picard are prosecuting the defendants, and Malfitano took the guilty plea today for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, Human Trafficking Unit.
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.
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.