|TRENTON – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced that a Ventnor man has been arrested on a first-degree charge of human trafficking for allegedly operating a male prostitution ring from his apartment, in which young men, including one or more minors, allegedly were being induced to use heroin and cocaine and were being prostituted to male clients.
Marc A. Branch, 39, was arrested shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday night at his apartment on North Newport Avenue in Ventnor by detectives of the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit and members of the FBI Human Trafficking Task Force in Atlantic City. Branch was charged with the following crimes: human trafficking (1st degree), sexual assault (2nd degree), prostituting a minor (2nd degree), operating a house of prostitution (3rd degree), and promoting prostitution (3rd degree). It is anticipated that additional charges will be filed. Branch is being held in the Atlantic County Jail with bail set at $250,000. No first appearance for Branch has been scheduled at this time.
It is alleged that Branch lured vulnerable young men, ranging in age from their teens to their early 20s, to his apartment by offering them money, drugs, friendship and, in some instances, shelter. He allegedly targeted victims who were estranged from their families. He allegedly gave the young victims drugs and alcohol, fueling their drug dependency, so that he could control them and prostitute them to male clients, who paid up to $200 to engage in a sexual act. At times, Branch allegedly gave a share of the money to the victims. Branch is charged with sexual assault for allegedly giving drugs to one of the victims, who is under 18 years old, and allowing a male client to sexually assault him. Branch allegedly solicited clients for his prostitution operation on the Internet by posting nude photos of the young men on Craigslist. He also allegedly used Twitter, Facebook and other websites. After Branch was arrested, detectives and agents executed a search warrant at his apartment, seizing two cell phones, a computer, drug paraphernalia, numerous pornographic videos and magazines, and four imitation firearms.
“The allegations in this case fit a classic pattern for human sexual trafficking in which a predator enslaves vulnerable victims in prostitution by weakening them with drugs and isolating them from any protective support,” said Attorney General Chiesa. “When we developed information about Branch’s alleged crimes, we moved quickly to arrest him and rescue his alleged victims. The new Human Trafficking Unit we formed earlier this year in the Division of Criminal Justice will continue to cooperate with partners like the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to aggressively investigate any cases of human trafficking in New Jersey.”
“We’re continuing our investigation into the defendant’s alleged human trafficking, his alleged prostitution of one or more minors, and his alleged online solicitation of clients for his commercial sex trade enterprise,” said Stephen J. Taylor, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.
The first-degree human trafficking charge carries a sentence of 20 years to life in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, and third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Branch was charged by complaint-warrant. Because the charges are indictable offenses, they will be presented to a state grand jury for potential indictment. The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The investigation is being led and conducted for the Division of Criminal Justice by Supervising Deputy Attorney General Andrew M. Butchko, chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau, Detective Naike Kudlik, Sgt. Keith Stopko, Detective Eric Barnes, Detective Brian Christensen and Detective Terry Shaw of the Human Trafficking Unit, under the supervision of Deputy Chief of Detectives Alex M. Adkins. Detective Scott Caponi and Lt. Ritchie King of the Division of Criminal Justice also assisted. Special Agent Dan Garrabrant, head of the FBI Human Trafficking Task Force in Atlantic City, led the investigation for the FBI. The Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office and New Jersey Human Services Police assisted as members of the Task Force. The Ventnor Police Department and Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office also assisted with the investigation. Attorney General Chiesa thanked the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Medford Police Department and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office for their valuable assistance.
Attorney General Chiesa and Director Taylor noted that the Division of Criminal Justice maintains a 24-hour NJ Human Trafficking Hotline: 877-986-7534. In addition, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in New Jersey works with out-of-state partners to share information on crimes against children, including distribution and use of child pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C., maintains a national, toll-free tip line for the public to report crimes against children: 1-800-THE-LOST, or 1-800-843-5678. That tip line brings leads to the New Jersey ICAC on sexual crimes against children.