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Fairfax police did not protect sex trafficking ring, jury finds

Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler briefs reporters in August 2019, in McLean, Va. (Matthew Barakat/AP)

A woman from Costa Rica who sued a former Fairfax County police chief and three former officers, alleging that they conspired with a sex-trafficking ring in Northern Virginia, was unable to convince a jury to support her claims.

Testifying under the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” the woman said she was coerced into performing sex acts by a madam named Hazel Sanchez, who called herself “Andrea Fairfax” in online ads and boasted of having police “protectors.” Doe alleged 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 her traffickers.

In explosive testimony in a civil trial in Alexandria, Va., Doe said she recognized all four men as clients of other women in the Sanchez ring.

But a federal jury found Friday that none of the officers interfered with the enforcement of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, as Doe alleged in seeking monetary damages. The jury found that Doe was not a trafficking victim.

“We respect the jury’s verdict even as we regret it,” said Victor M. Glasberg, the attorney for Doe. He added: “The jury found she had not been trafficked, as a result of which she was not entitled to the protective provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was the basis of the lawsuit. End of story.”

Roessler, the former police chief, and Baumstark, who retired from the Fairfax County Police Department and is now deputy police chief in Asheville, N.C., said the claims against them were “preposterous” and denied knowing any of the women in the case.

Earlier trial coverage: Woman alleges Fairfax police chief, officers paid for sexual acts

Barbazette and Mardocco conceded that they met with Sanchez as clients, but both denied Doe’s claims and said they had never met her.

Roessler said in a statement that “the truth of this frivolous civil action against me” had been settled by the jury’s verdict. “I am grateful for my legal team and thank the jurors for their service,” Roessler said. Lawyers for the other three former Fairfax County officers declined to comment.

None of the officers named in Doe’s lawsuit have been charged with a crime. The FBI, which investigated the sex trafficking ring, reviewed allegations involving police officers and referred them to Fairfax County police, according to court testimony. An internal affairs investigator for Fairfax County police testified that neither Baumstark nor Roessler was mentioned in the FBI’s files when he received the case.

Phone numbers for Barbazette and Mardocco were found among Sanchez’s approximately 10,000 contacts, the investigator said. Glasberg said both officers retired with pensions while they were under investigation.

“She told me she would kill my son,” Doe said, describing Sanchez’s coercion tactics. The four officers let down all the women Sanchez trafficked, Doe alleged. “They didn’t have to protect the Hazel ring,” she said.

Sanchez was sentenced to 2½ years in federal prison after admitting in 2019 that she managed “unlawful prostitution activity” for five women, including Doe, who alleged Sanchez trafficked her from 2010 to 2015. Appearing at Doe’s trial, Sanchez testified that of the four defendants, she recognized only Barbazette.

No law enforcement witness testified that Baumstark or Roessler impeded the federal investigation into Sanchez’s ring, or the internal affairs probe by Fairfax County police. Defense attorneys said no emails, text messages, documents, records of phone conversations or other physical evidence connected either Baumstark or Roessler to Sanchez or her operation.

Far from protecting traffickers and covering up officers’ dalliances, Roessler “immediately ordered a criminal investigation and an internal affairs investigation” into Barbazette and Mardocco when he learned of the evidence against them, said Kimberly P. Baucom, a Fairfax County attorney representing Baumstark and Roessler.

“He had them placed on leave, took their guns, took their badges, took their credentials,” Baucom said in her closing argument. “They never worked as police officers again.”

Barbazette testified that he never told Sanchez he was a police officer and did not know she worked with other women. He said he admitted paying for sexual acts when police investigators first confronted him about the matter.

Defense attorney Heather K. Bardot said Barbazette first met with Sanchez in 2016, the year after Doe said she fled from the same madam. Mardocco met with Sanchez in 2009 and 2010, which is outside the 10-year statute of limitations, Bardot said. Doe filed her lawsuit in 2021.

Doe initially told the FBI she traveled to the United States expecting to work as a nanny and housekeeper, but after FBI agents asked her about an email she received before her first trip, showing different rates she could charge for escort services, Doe said she also knew she could make money from such work.

But Doe said she did not believe it would involve coerced sex, seeing multiple men a day, or the degrading acts she was forced to perform. Glasberg had asked jurors at the start of the trial to weigh the case “with not only an open mind, but with an open heart,” noting that Doe was struggling financially and spoke little English when she first traveled to Virginia.

“Doe learned in 2018 about trafficking, about the possibility of victimhood,” Glasberg said in his final remarks to the jury. “Until then, she thought she was a prostitute. She had to learn that was a status that she had.”

Another woman from Costa Rica testified that the same four police officers paid for sexual acts. Like Doe, the woman alleged Sanchez coerced her into sex work by confiscating her passport, prohibiting food during daytime hours and threatening to harm her loved ones in Costa Rica.

The Washington Post is not naming the woman because it generally does not name victims of sex trafficking without their consent.

“I tried to kill myself several times. I lost my kids. My family members stopped talking to me. I was stuck here,” the woman testified. To escape, the woman said, “I called 911 and I told the operator to please arrest me because I was a prostitute.”

The woman said that she had sex with Mardocco for money and that she recognized Barbazette, Baumstark and Roessler as “protectors” who were clients of other women in the Sanchez ring.

As part of Sanchez’s case, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia said the woman and Doe were trafficking victims. Rahul Sharma, the public defender who represented Sanchez, said the judge who sentenced her in 2019 found that the other women were not coerced.