N.Y. men deny human-trafficking charges
01:00 AM EST on Thursday, December 30, 2010
Journal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — Two New York men pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges they enslaved women and forced them into prostitution in their Elmhurst apartment in the state’s first human-trafficking case.
Joseph Defeis and Andy Fakhoury, both 23 and of Yonkers, entered not guilty pleas to counts that included human trafficking, involuntary servitude, pandering, conspiracy and possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver at their arraignment before Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. In addition, Fakhoury faces two counts of first-degree sexual assault for allegedly raping one of the women.
Authorities say the two men befriended four young women while in Yonkers and persuaded them to move to Rhode Island. Once here, they threatened them and forced them into a life of prostitution, selling their services over the Internet, said Assistant Attorney General Bethany M. Macktaz Moore.
Defeis, a slight man, who at 5 feet, 5 inches swam in his dark suit, sat between his parents as he awaited his appearance. His lawyer, John Grasso, entered the pleas on his behalf to 11 counts, including simple assault against one of the women.
“You don’t see these types of charges every day,” said Darigan in allowing Defeis to remain free on $10,000 bail with surety. He warned Defeis to keep the peace and to return from his family’s home in Yonkers, to attend all court proceedings.
“Yes, your honor,” Defeis said. Darigan ordered Defeis not to contact the four women alleged to be victims in the case, who prosecutors say range in age from 17 to 20.
Fakhoury, who stood shackled to another prisoner, said simply, “Not guilty, your honor,” when asked how he pleaded to the 16 counts he faces. The judge ordered him not to contact three of the alleged victims. He remains held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions.
Providence police arrested Defeis and Fakhoury in October after receiving a tip from Yonkers that a 19-year-old woman was being held against her will and forced into prostitution by Fakhoury. Detectives found the woman’s profile on Backpage.com, an Internet site that advertises adult escort services, under the title “Pretty and Petite Blonde -19,” according to the police. Undercover detectives arranged to meet a woman called Jenna at 123 Pinehurst St., second floor. Once there the woman propositioned a detective for sex for $150 for a half-hour or $250 an hour.
A further investigation, the police said, revealed the woman worked for Fakhoury and that the two men intimidated and threatened her into prostituting herself from July through October. The police later learned that the men recruited and forced two other women, one who was 16 at the time, into prostitution from 2008 through this fall; a fourth woman got away, Macktaz Moore said.
The police said they came to Rhode Island because of a loophole legalizing indoor prostitution.
A search of the apartment where the women lived with Defeis and Fakhoury found more than $4,500 cash and about a pound of marijuana, the police said. The women were not charged because “it was clear they were victims of this operation and they were threatened with physical harm,” Macktaz Moore said. An investigation is ongoing into the men who used their services.
A grand jury indicted the pair earlier this month in what is the first case of its kind since state legislators outlawed indoor prostitution. The men face up to 20 years in prison on each human-trafficking and involuntary-servitude charge.