Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

ashley gardener
Ashley Gardener (left) and Breon Mickens

TRENTON >> A city couple was indicted on charges they sexually enslaved a 17-year-old girl, forcing her to prostitute herself, sometimes with more than a dozen men a day, while they starved and pumped her full of drugs, holding her captive inside a hotel for days.

The girl finally escaped and spilled to the authorities, the state Attorney General’s Office said in announcing the indictment.

Alleged pimp Breon Mickens, 26, and accused madam Ashley Gardener, 30, arrested in January, face multiple charges including human trafficking, promoting prostitution and child endangerment.

They could get up to 20 years in prison on each first-degree charge and a fine of $200,000 after a grand jury returned a seven-count indictment against them.

Gardener was arrested at a hotel in Lawrence, while Mickens was nabbed in Trenton Jan. 14. Both are being detained at the Mercer County Jail until trial.

The couple allegedly pimped the victim out on Backpage, officials said, forcing her to prostitute herself several times between Dec. 27 and Jan. 11 at Mercer County hotels.

State police found the teen walking along Interstate 295 in Hamilton on Jan. 11. She told cops she had escaped from a hotel where she was forced by Gardener to perform various sex acts on anywhere between four to 15 men each day.

She was confined to a hotel for three days before escaping, officials said, as the couple starved the teen of food and provided pot for her to smoke. They also didn’t allow to call her family, the AG’s office said.

Gardener arranged meet-ups by placing sexually suggestive ads on Backpage with photos of herself and the victim, authorities said, under the guise of “adult entertainment.”

A number belonging to Gardener was listed for “johns” to call, officials said.

Gardener collected cash up front then instructed the teen what sex acts to perform, sometimes staying in the room as they happened, the AG said, while Mickens was the “muscle” of the operation.

The victim, cops said, never got a cut of the money from the sick sexcapades.

“Human traffickers prey on the vulnerable, depriving victims of their freedom, isolating them from any benevolent support network, and forcing them into a miserable life of slavery – in this case, sexual slavery,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

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