It started out with promises to the young women, according to prosecutors, assurances from someone on the other end of an online ad that they would be models or have their debt disappear. But the women soon found themselves beaten and threatened into a life of prostitution.

Prosecutors in Maryland said the enterprise known as “Pink Pleasure Entertainment” operated for years before authorities shut it down recently. Over that time, there were dozens of victims, officials said.

Top law enforcement leaders from the state and Prince George’s County announced Tuesday that the three people allegedly behind the operation — Rashid Mosby, 42, Joshua Isaiah Jones, 26, and Terra Perry, 35 — have been indicted on charges of human trafficking and prostitution.

Mosby, Jones and Perry would beat, intimidate and threaten women and girls as young as 15 to engage in prostitution in dozens of motels and hotels across Maryland and Virginia, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said.

The trio paid for victims’ food, lodging and travel, and said that the women and girls had to pay them back before they could be freed, Frosh said. They also advertised and recruited women on Backpage.com, telling some of them that they would become models, he said. Once the women made contact with the group, they were trapped, he added.

“They used threats and violence to keep these young women under their control,” Frosh said.

Most of the activity occurred in Prince George’s County, but the enterprise spanned as far north as Baltimore and south to Virginia between 2013 to 2015, prosecutors allege.

In addition to luring the women through Backpage.com, Mosby, Jones and Perry allegedly used the Internet classifieds to advertise that the women were available for prostitution, prosecutors said. After the women performed sexual services for money, the indictment alleges, the proceeds were taken away and the women were told they couldn’t go home.

The Office of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Unit is responsible for prosecuting the case and has been working with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Mosby, Jones and Perry were indicted by a local grand jury earlier this month on charges involving four victims, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said. Prosecutors think the operation involved dozens of victims, hundreds of Backpage ads, and countless nights booked at various hotels and motels throughout the region, but many women would not cooperate with investigators, Alsobrooks said.

Because of the “emotional bondage” involved in grooming victims, some of “the young women do not understand the truly dangerous nature of this particular enterprise,” Alsobrooks said.

The investigation began with an undercover operation by Prince George’s County police, Chief Henry P. Stawinski III said. The case then expanded to include Maryland State Police and prosecutors.

“This is deliberate, structured cruelty that these individuals engaged in to advance themselves,” Stawinski said.

In one case, the defendants purchased a one-way ticket for a woman from North Carolina and told her she couldn’t go home because she was financially indebted to them, prosecutors said.

Another case involved a victim who had her shoulder dislocated, Frosh said. One of the defendants took her out of the hospital but also took away her credit cards and money before abandoning her, law enforcement officials alleged.

Although this alleged trafficking operation has been shut down, Maj. David Ruel of the Maryland State Police said authorities will continue to work together to combat the problem.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crime issues we are facing today,” Ruel said. “We pledge to continue to advance our crime-fighting efforts.”

Mosby and Perry are in police custody, but Jones remains at large, prosecutors said.