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Lawsuit claims Fairfax County police benefited from sex trafficking ring, undermined investigations

Fairfax County Public Safety Headquarters (via FCPD)

A woman alleges that Fairfax County police not only benefited from a sex trafficking ring that victimized her for years but also harmed efforts trying to stop it.

She is suing several former Fairfax County officers, including former Chief Ed Roessler, as well as the county itself. The lawsuit claims the woman — identified as a mother with the pseudonym Jane Doe — was forced to have sex with multiple men per day as part of a trafficking operation exposed in 2018 by an FBI investigation.

“Defendants also conspired to cover up the fact that Fairfax County police officers were actively participating in, and benefiting sexually if not financially from, the work of a local sex trafficking ring,” the lawsuit said.

The Fairfax County Police Department directed FFXnow to the county’s public affairs office, which declined to comment.

The suit alleged that two supervisory officers “actively facilitated” a sex trafficking ring by “providing it with protection intended to prevent discovery of, and appropriate law enforcement intervention into.”

The woman’s attorneys filed a 19-page amended complaint in federal court Thursday (Dec. 16), expanding on an initial nine-page complaint filed in October. The updated document names the officers allegedly involved and alleges that the FCPD damaged a county detective’s work and dismissed his report involving police’s actions.

The suit relates to a prostitution ring run by Hazel Marie Sanchez Cerdas, who brought multiple women from Costa Rica to the U.S. and forced them into commercial sex work in Fairfax County and across the country. Cerdas pleaded guilty to felony racketeering and was sentenced to 30 months in prison in August 2019, with credit for time served.

According to the amended complaint, a friend connected the woman with Sanchez Cerdas, who coordinated her travel in 2010 from Costa Rica. The woman believed she would work as a nanny, housekeeper, or social escort, going on dates to business dinners and events with wealthy men.

Under the belief that she was taking a two-week trip, the woman met Sanchez Cerdas in a Fairfax apartment in 2010. Sanchez Cerdas took her travel documents and threatened her family if she didn’t work as a prostitute, according to the lawsuit.

She was allowed to leave for certain time periods, but under the threat that her family could be harmed if she didn’t return. She escaped in 2015.

Detective Says Police Extorted Sex

A former detective for the county, William Woolf, worked in the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, but the FCPD repeatedly interfered with and jeopardized his work, according to the lawsuit.

When he tried to change his supervisor and report issues to a captain, he received no support from the department, according to the amended complaint.

“Det. Woolf said that trafficking victims, who trusted him, had reported to him that FCPD police officers were extorting sex from the trafficking enterprises they were also protecting,” the lawsuit said.

According to the complaint, superiors disparagingly called Woolf a social worker, and a lieutenant told him to “think about” his kids and not talk about human trafficking. The department later reassigned him to its Major Crimes Division, after which “trafficking cases stopped receiving the manpower and allocation of resources that had earlier supported this work.”

“Police officials regularly derided the notion that trafficked women were victims, insisting instead that they were simply prostitutes willingly engaged in unlawful commercial activity,” the suit said.

The suit also alleges that police tipped Sanchez Cerdas off to sting operations. The FBI investigated at least two officers for corruption but ultimately referred the matter to the FCPD for follow-up, according to the lawsuit.

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