A woman pleaded guilty today in federal court to sex trafficking of a minor, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Aja M. Easley, 22, of Camden, appeared this afternoon before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan and pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging her with sex trafficking of a minor. Easley previously was charged in a criminal complaint with co-defendants Aaron J. Gray, 29, of Camden, and Kenneth A. Mertz, 35, of Collingswood, with sex trafficking of a minor and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor. Gray also was charged in the complaint with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
According to the documents filed in this case and admissions that Easley made during the plea hearing today:
On March 2, 2015, Easley communicated with the victim, a minor, using a popular social media website. Easley told the victim she was “worried about” the victim because of a previous assault by the victim’s ex-boyfriend. She offered the victim money, food, clothing, and shelter, and met the victim at the Camden Transportation Center. There, Easley told the victim about a “dating website,” and said that the victim could make money through the website by going on “dates.” Easley and the victim later met Gray and Mertz at a residence in Camden. Thereafter, Easley, Mertz, and Gray agreed to advertise the minor online for commercial sex acts for the purpose of earning money. To do so, Gray, Mertz, and Easley drove the minor to a motel in Cherry Hill.
At the motel, Gray and Easley convinced the victim to engage in commercial sex acts. Using her cellular telephone, Easley took provocative photos of the victim, and uploaded them to an online advertisement that she had created advertising the victim for commercial sex acts. After the advertisement was online, Easley used her cellular telephone to communicate with multiple individuals who responded to the advertisement seeking to engage in commercial sex acts with the minor. Gray gave the victim instructions on what to do when the respondents arrived. Easley instructed the victim to tell the individuals that, regardless of her real age, that she was 21 years old. Easley also instructed the victim how much time each individual could spend with the victim at the motel and how much each individual owed the victim. Easley also told the victim that if any trouble arose, then defendant Gray was outside the motel with a firearm. While at the motel in Cherry Hill, the victim engaged in sex acts in exchange for money with multiple individuals, which the defendants split between themselves and the victim.
The next day, on March 3, 2015, at a motel in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, at the defendants’ direction, the victim again engaged in sex acts in exchange for money with multiple individuals who responded to the advertisement. Later that evening, the defendants told the victim that they were taking the victim to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to meet another person who had responded to the advertisement and was willing to pay $1,200 for an entire evening with the victim.
On the way to Atlantic City, the defendants agreed to let the victim stop at a residence in Gloucester City, New Jersey. The victim went inside and contacted the police, leading to the defendants’ arrest.
The statute under which Easley pleaded guilty carries a statutory mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, a statutory maximum of life in prison, and a maximum fine of $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher, and members of the Mount Laurel Police Department, under the direction of Police Chief Dennis Cribben, and the Gloucester City Police Department, under the direction of Acting Police Chief Michael Morell, with the investigation leading to the charges.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Brendan Day of the Office’s Criminal Division in Trenton.
The charges and allegations against Gray and Mertz remain merely accusations. Gray and Mertz are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.