A woman from Costa Rica who said she was coerced into commercial sex work in the United States alleged in federal court this week that a former Fairfax County police chief and three former officers paid for sexual acts and protected a human-trafficking ring in Northern Virginia before federal prosecutors busted it in 2019.
Testifying under the pseudonym “Jane Doe” in an explosive civil trial in Alexandria, Va., the woman claimed that now former Fairfax County police chief Edwin C. Roessler, captain James Baumstark and officers Michael O. Barbazette and Jason J. Mardocco violated federal law by obstructing efforts to investigate and prosecute a madam named Hazel Sanchez, who called herself “Andrea Fairfax” in online ads.
Doe claimed the four officers, who are all retired now, hired women through the same madam.
Attorneys for Baumstark and Roessler forcefully denied the claims against them, calling them “preposterous” fabrications that did not surface until late in Doe’s litigation. A defense lawyer for Barbazette and Mardocco said that they each hired sex workers but that Doe’s specific allegations were false or barred by the statute of limitations.
Doe filed a lawsuit in October 2021, seeking monetary damages that have yet to be determined. After extensive litigation, a judge let the case proceed to trial, and jurors will now have to decide whether Doe’s claims have merit.
In emotional testimony, Doe described the degrading sexual acts she said Sanchez forced her to perform under threat, and alleged that the officers failed in their duties. At one point, the judge called a brief recess as she broke down in tears.
“They had to protect us,” Doe said of the four officers. “They had to not be the clients. They didn’t have to protect the Hazel ring.”
Her attorney, Victor M. Glasberg, has said the FBI’s public corruption unit investigated the allegations involving at least Barbazette and Mardocco before referring the matter back to the Fairfax County Police Department. Neither they, nor Baumstark or Roessler, have been charged criminally.
“They were police officers sworn to enforce the law, not to break it,” Glasberg argued in his opening statement to the jury. Doe’s case was about “compelled, forced sex done under threat,” he said.
Kimberly P. Baucom, a Fairfax County attorney representing Baumstark and Roessler, argued Doe was “not a trafficking victim” but a “voluntary sex worker” who fabricated claims in her lawsuit.
Roessler, who retired as chief in 2021 after more than three decades in the Fairfax County Police Department, and Baumstark, who retired as a captain in 2015 after nearly three decades in the department and is now deputy police chief in Asheville, N.C., were added to the lawsuit even though “there isn’t a shred of physical evidence” linking them to the case, Baucom said.
“Not a single piece of paper, not a phone call, not a text message, not an email,” Baucom told the jury. “The claim that either Mr. Roessler or Mr. Baumstark were somehow involved in a sex-trafficking organization is preposterous. It’s made up of whole cloth. It’s simply false.”
Sanchez pleaded guilty in 2019 to a charge of interstate and foreign travel or transportation in aid of racketeering enterprises. She was sentenced to 2½ years in prison after admitting that she managed “unlawful prostitution activity” for five other women, who are identified only by their initials in Sanchez’s case documents.
Appearing as a witness at Doe’s trial, Sanchez said that of the four defendants, she recognized only Barbazette.
Glasberg asked whether Sanchez had sex with Barbazette for money or directed other women to do so, but the judge ruled repeatedly that Sanchez did not have to answer under the Fifth Amendment. The judge, Anthony J. Trenga, also ruled that Sanchez did not have to answer questions about whether she ever discussed with Barbazette or others the issue of police officers providing protection for her sex-trafficking ring.
Another woman from Costa Rica who said she was referenced in Sanchez’s court records by the initials C.V.A. appeared as a witness for Doe and accused the same four officers of paying for sexual acts and protecting the Sanchez ring. She described similar coercive conditions, alleging Sanchez forbade the women from eating during daytime hours and confiscated their passports while they were in the United States.
The woman said she had sex with Mardocco for money, and he complained when she refused to have unprotected sex. She said she once saw Barbazette enter a room with Doe. She said that Baumstark was a Sanchez client whom Sanchez described as “another protector of ours.”
The Washington Post is not naming the woman because it generally does not name victims of sex trafficking without their consent.
The woman said Roessler also was “a client of the operation,” whom she once saw in an apartment with an inebriated Sanchez.
She alleged Barbazette and Mardocco thwarted efforts to investigate the trafficking, or claimed to be able to do so. She said Mardocco once called Sanchez and said “there’s going to be a sting in your building apartment, do not let the girls work.”
Barbazette, who was not her client, once told her that he would alert Sanchez to impending sting operations by police, “so she doesn’t work and we don’t work, so no one is arrested,” the woman alleged.
Defense attorneys questioned the woman and Doe about inconsistencies between their testimony at trial and what they said in earlier depositions or in their original FBI interviews. In an early interview with the FBI, Doe said she was lured to the United States expecting to work as a nanny and housekeeper, only to be forced into commercial sex by people threatening to harm her son in Costa Rica. But she later conceded that she knew she could make money from being an escort, after the FBI questioned her based on an email she had received before the trip, which showed different rates she could charge for such services.
“She’s not a trafficking victim,” Baucom said, noting that Doe reported her trafficking allegations to U.S. authorities only after she was denied a green card. In one sharp exchange, Baucom questioned Doe’s claim that she believed the escort-service rates she received by email were for dating men, with no sex involved.
“What kind of date did you think you were going on with a man for 15 minutes?” Baucom asked, noting that one of the rates was $100 for 15 minutes.
Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia said in Sanchez’s plea documents that C.V.A. and Doe were trafficking victims. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen C. Cain wrote in a 2019 sentencing brief that Sanchez took advantage of vulnerable women who spoke little to no English.
“Our society should not condone the sexual exploitation of women for profit. Nor should our society condone manipulative and coercive tactics that are commonly employed to keep women working in prostitution and that were used in this case,” Cain wrote.