A federal judge rejected a bid to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Virginia police officers protected a sex trafficking ring in exchange for sex, ruling the case had substantial evidence to proceed.
While Judge Anthony Trenga rejected the motion by former Fairfax County police officers Michael Barbazette and Jason Mardocco to toss the case on Friday on the grounds of a lack of evidence, he did agree to throw out some counts on technical problems. The plaintiff, who is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, and other assorted costs in unspecified amounts, submitted an amended complaint on Thursday to address those concerns.
"Defendants Barbazette and Mardocco conspired with each other and others ... knowingly to secure benefits from a venture engaged in unlawful activity," the plaintiff claimed in the amended filing.
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The plaintiff, a Puerto Rican woman identified as Jane Doe, was duped into moving to the United States over a decade ago with a job offer as a “social escort,” according to the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. When she arrived, the group kidnapped her, took her passport, and forced her into a sex trafficking ring for five years until she escaped in 2015, the filing alleged.
The woman reported the ring to the FBI, noting she avoided going to the Fairfax County Police because she was told officers had protected the traffickers from receiving charges, according to the case. The two officers resigned once her claims were investigated and sent to the Fairfax County Police Public Corruption Unit.
The pair would tip off the leaders of the sex trafficking ring when another detective attempted a sting operation, and one officer’s cellphone was linked to the ring, according to the suit.
Former Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler assisted the officers by covering for them whenever another detective’s work threatened to expose their involvement, the suit alleges. All three are named as defendants.
The woman’s attorney initially sought to avoid a trial to prevent an emotional burden for his client, requesting only a monetary settlement and some form of accountability for the officers. However, he decided to pursue a lawsuit when those negotiations failed.
“I begged the county to resolve this without litigation. I said, 'Let's get some accountability here,'" the attorney said. “This lawsuit is going to be difficult for my client, but it's going to be a whole lot more difficult for the county.”
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One of the accused leaders of the ring, Hazel Sanchez Cerdas, pleaded guilty in federal court in 2019 and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. In her operation, Sanchez would require the women to have sex with up to 17 customers daily and comply with requests regardless of embarrassment or discomfort, according to the suit.
It isn’t clear when the defendants will appear in court.