ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit against two former police officers accused of protecting a sex trafficking ring in northern Virginia in exchange for sex can move forward.
The former Fairfax County officers, Michael O. Barbazette of Manassas and Jason J. Mardocco of Gainesville, had asked a judge at a hearing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria to have the case tossed out.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, Judge Anthony Trenga rejected the motion to dismiss. He did toss out some counts on technical issues, but is allowing the plaintiff to file an amended complaint that will comply with the technical failings and allows the substantive accusations to move forward intact.
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of a Costa Rican woman identified in court papers only as Jane Doe. She alleges she was duped into coming to the U.S. in 2010 on the promise of work as a “social escort.” When she arrived in the U.S., though, her traffickers took her passport and forced her into prostitution for several years.
When she was finally able to escape in 2015, she reported her traffickers to the FBI. She says in the lawsuit she did not go to Fairfax County Police because she was warned by other women that Fairfax County police were protecting the traffickers.
Hazel Sanchez Cerdas pleaded guilty in federal court in Alexandria to running the prostitution ring and she was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in 2019. Prosecutors in that case said women in Sanchez’s operation were required to have sex with up to 17 customers a day and instructed to comply with requests even for particularly humiliating or dangerous sex acts.
At Friday’s hearing, lawyers for the accused officers said the complaint was thin on substantiating details and should be dismissed.
Jane Doe’s lawyer, Vic Glasberg, acknowledged he still needs to ferret out more details, but said there is substantial evidence already to support Doe’s claims.
— One of the officer’s phone numbers was found on a cellphone linked to the trafficking ring, the lawsuit states.
— The woman’s claims were investigated by the FBI and sent over to the Fairfax County police’s Public Corruption unit. After that occurred, the officers resigned.
— The lawsuit also includes allegations from a former Fairfax County detective, William Woolf, who was assigned to a federally funded trafficking task force. Woolf alleges in the complaint that Barbazette, his supervisor, took an unusual interest in his work and tried to hamper his investigations.
Ultimately, the lawsuit alleges that Barbazette and Mardocco would tip off Sanchez when police would conduct sex trafficking stings so she could steer clear of them, in exchange for sex.
“There’s a whole boatload of evidence to suggest there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark,” Glasberg said at Friday’s hearing.
The lawyer for Barbazette and Mardocco acknowledged the fact that the officers were asked to resign “looks bad, but it doesn’t go to show there’s some conspiracy here. It doesn’t carry the weight the plaintiff suggests it does.”
The lawsuit also accuses supervisors in the Fairfax County Police Department, including then-Chief Ed Roessler, of covering up the officers’ misdeeds. The lawyer for Roessler and the other supervisory defendants declined comment after Friday’s hearing.