A married couple was convicted for forcing a 21-year-old Massachusetts woman into prostitution at a Flushing hotel, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Elizabeth O’Sullivan, 31, of Brooklyn and Lee Vargas, 34, of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania were found guilty of three counts of sex trafficking and second- and third-degree promoting prostitution. They are due to return to court for sentencing on Nov. 13, and they each face up to 25 years in prison, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
According to trial testimony, in October 2016, O’Sullivan and Vargas traveled to Massachusetts to pick up the victim, who was under the impression that the couple hired her to be an exotic dancer and stripper, and drove her to Queens.
Instead, prosecutors said, the couple forced the victim to have daily sexual encounters with multiple men in exchange for money and then made the victim turn over the cash to them.
The couple reportedly listed the victim and several other women on as being a prostitute on the online classified Backpage.com. The victim broke down and cried to the couple saying that she didn’t want to work for them anymore.
Authorities said that Vargas forced the victim to call him “Daddy” and would slap her repeatedly, and went as far as to choke and throw her to the floor her when she overslept and missed scheduled dates with her clients.
Vargas would also humiliate the victim by urinating on her to “signify that she belonged to him.” When the victim would try to flee the hotel, which took place on numerous occasions, she would be met by O’Sullivan, who physically attacked and forced her to stay in the room.
According to trial records, the victim managed to contact her family, who notified police. An undercover rescue operation began on Jan. 7, 2017, where an undercover officer responded to an advertisement. The officer, who was summoned to the hotel’s Main Street location, met the victim and agreed to engage in sexual intercourse in exchange for $200.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, officers returned to the hotel and arrested the couple, who were outside smoking in a vehicle.
“The victim in this case – a young woman forced into prostitution – endured both emotional and physical trauma at the hands of these two defendants,” Brown said. “The two used physical force and intimidation to make her have sex dates with strangers and turn over the cash to them. A jury weighed all the evidence and rendered a guilty verdict. A lengthy term of incarceration is more than warranted.”