ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A jury on Friday rejected a woman’s allegations that a former police chief in Virginia and three other officers protected a prostitution ring that she said trafficked her.
The eight-person civil jury found that the woman, identified in court only as Jane Doe, was not a victim of trafficking but was instead a willing sex worker. Once the jury reached that conclusion, it did not have to consider the question of the officers’ alleged involvement in protecting the prostitution ring.
During the two-week trial, the woman said she was lured to the U.S. from Costa Rica in 2010 with promise of work as a nanny and housekeeper, and also as a high-end escort. She said she was told she wouldn’t be required to have sex with clients but could if she wanted, and that she would be paid for it.
Instead, Doe said she was forced to engage in often degrading sex acts with as many as 17 men a day, and that the leader of the operation, Hazel Sanchez, kept her employed by confiscating her passport and threatening to harm her family if she ran away.
But defense lawyers pointed to an email exchange between Doe and Sanchez before she came to the U.S., in which they discussed the rates that would be charged to men on dates. Defense lawyers said the discussion of hourly rates did not comport with Doe’s claim that she was promised work as a high-end escort who would go on dates with wealthy clients and would only have sex if she chose to.
They also noted that Doe traveled to Costa Rica often between 2010 and 2015 — when she alleged that she was trafficked — only to return to Sanchez each time. Doe said she did so because she feared for her family’s safety.
“She’s willing to say whatever it takes to get what she wants in that moment,” Kim Baucom, a lawyer for two of the officers, said in her closing statement.
The officers sued included former Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler and James Baumstark, a retired captain in Fairfax County who now serves as a deputy chief in Asheville, North Carolina.
Both Roessler and Baumstark denied that they ever used sex workers in Sanchez’s operation or that they did anything to protect it.
The other two former officers, Michael Barbazette and Jason Mardocco, admitted they were clients of Sanchez and resigned from the force after their phone numbers were found on her phone. But they denied that they knew Doe, that they were Doe’s clients, or that they ever engaged in any conduct to protect the prostitution ring.
Doe filed the lawsuit in 2021 against unnamed Fairfax county police officers. The lawsuit came after a criminal case against Sanchez in which she was convicted and sentenced to more than 2 years in prison for running a prostitution ring.
Some sex workers told the FBI during its investigation of Sanchez that law enforcement officers were clients of her Virginia-based operation and provided protection to Sanchez by tipping her off when police were conducting sting operations in the area.
Authorities searched through the 10,000 names and numbers in Sanchez’s contact list and found the numbers of Barbazette and Mardocco.
When Doe’s lawyer, Vic Glasberg, learned their names he added them to the lawsuit as defendants. He also added Roessler and Baumstark as defendants when a former sex-trafficking detective in Fairfax County, William Woolf, reached out to Glasberg and alleged that Roessler and Baumstark had tried to interfere in his work.
The initial allegations against Roessler and Baumstark never suggested that they were clients of the prostitution ring. But last week, as the trial began, Doe and her lawyer alleged publicly for the first time that they were.
Doe and another sex worker in Sanchez’s ring testified at trial that they were trafficked, and both identified all four officers in court as clients. But on cross-examination, numerous discrepancies emerged, including confusion about the officers’ names and their identifying characteristics. Defense lawyers also raised doubts about how the women could identify these officers as clients when they had been unable to do so during the prosecution of Sanchez.
Doe sued under the federal law Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act; that law required Doe to establish that she had been trafficked to claim any damages. Once the jury concluded she did sex work voluntarily, the allegations against the officer became a moot point.
Lawyers for the officers declined to comment after Friday’s verdict.