A trafficking survivor suing a Virginia police department has amended her complaint to claim that a former detective was threatened into keeping a protection racket and massive coverup quiet.
According to the suit, Fairfax County police officers let predators operate in exchange for free sexual services in a coverup that reached all the way to the then-chief. In one instance, the suit claims, a lieutenant threatened a detective who raised concerns, telling him to “keep [his] mouth shut and don’t utter the words ‘human trafficking’ again.”
The Fairfax County Police Department referred a request for comment about the allegations to the county, which did not respond to calls and emails from The Daily Beast.
The suit was originally filed in October by a 43-year-old woman who claims she was trafficked from Costa Rica in 2010 and forced to work as a prostitute in Fairfax County until 2015. She alleged she was forced to provide two local police officers with free services in exchange for information about when the department would be conducting raids. An updated version of the complaint filed last week contains the names of both officers, as well as additional allegations that the suit claims come from William Woolf, a former Fairfax County Police Department detective.
Woolf did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking comment, but the plaintiff’s attorney, Vic Glasberg, claims he spoke to the cop at length about his former department after filing the original complaint.
“Frankly, I view him as a latter-day Serpico,” Glasberg said, referring to a famous NYPD whistleblower.
Around the time the plaintiff was allegedly being trafficked, the suit says, Woolf was the only FCPD officer assigned to work on the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, for which the department had previously received a half-million-dollar grant. According to the suit, Woolf’s fellow officers looked down on his work with trafficking victims, saying they were not real crime victims and disparaging him as a “social worker.”
In 2014, Woolf’s supervisor, Michael Barbazette, began demonstrating a “substantial interest” in Woolf’s work with trafficking victims, asking to come along on interviews and at one point asking for a victim’s cellphone number, the suit claims. At the same time, the suit says, Barbazette began making Woolf’s work “substantially more difficult,” denying his travel requests, refusing him overtime, and requesting a detailed daily report on his activities.
At one point, according to the suit, Woolf complained to his supervisor about Barbazette’s behavior and about trafficking victims who said that they were being traded to the officers in exchange for protection from law enforcement. But Woolf’s supervisor, Capt. James Baumstark, allegedly declined to help and ordered him to forget what he had been told, saying: “I’m a lifeguard and you are far off shore drowning, and I’m not going to try to save you.” (Baumstark did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.)
The next year, Woolf was aggressively interrogated by Lt. Vincent Scianna about flying to interview a sex-trafficking witness, the suit claims. It reports that Woolf claims Scianna turned off the recorder he had been using to tape the meeting and asked, “You know what this is really about, don’t you?” before issuing the order to “keep [his] mouth shut” if he wanted to keep working in law enforcement. “You have six kids. You have to think about them,” the suit says Scianna added. (Scianna could not be reached for comment.)
Woolf agreed not to raise the issue of human trafficking again, and was assigned to work on child pornography and runaway cases, according to the complaint. Two days later, Chief of Police Edwin Roessler, who retired this year, called and said he wanted to make sure Woolf was “willing to play ball.” The suit says Woolf assured the chief that he was. (Roessler could not be reached for comment.)
A few years later, the FBI began investigating the trafficking ring in which the plaintiff claims she was victimized. Multiple women told the bureau stories strikingly similar to hers, saying they had been lured from Costa Rica to Virginia under false pretenses and forced to work as prostitutes. Several of the women claim the ringleader confiscated their travel documents and threatened to harm their families, according to a federal affidavit.
As part of their investigation, the FBI searched a cellphone used by the plaintiff and several other trafficking victims and found numbers belonging to Barbazette and another FCPD officer, Jason Mardocco, the complaint says.
Mardocco did not respond to a request for comment and Barbazette could not be reached. Neither was named in the original complaint, because the plaintiff said she did not know their names, but the police department identified them in response to a subpoena, according to a separate court filing.
The leader of the trafficking ring, Hazel Marie Sanchez Cerdas, eventually pleaded guilty to felony charges related to sex trafficking and served five years. In the meantime, the suit claims, the FBI forwarded the case to its Public Corruption Division to investigate Barbazette and Mardocco’s involvement. According to the suit, the bureau eventually referred the corruption case back to the Fairfax police, which allegedly allowed the officers to resign quietly and maintain their pensions.
Woolf, meanwhile, resigned from the department in 2017 and went on to serve as the director of human trafficking programs for the Justice Department and a special adviser for human trafficking to the White House. He also founded his own anti-trafficking charity, Anti-Trafficking International, and serves as a senior fellow for the America First Policy Institute, a think tank stacked with Trump administration veterans.