Queens DA announces launch of Human Trafficking Bureau

Photo by Mark Hallum

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced the creation of a Human Trafficking Bureau that is exclusively dedicated to combating sex and labor trafficking by aggressively prosecuting traffickers and buyers of sex.

The bureau will also connect survivors of trafficking with meaningful services to empower them to escape their traffickers and provide community outreach, education and information aimed toward preventing and identifying trafficking across Queens County.

“The sex trafficking industry is brutal, degrading and illegal enterprise that far too often profits by forcing women, children and members of our transgender community into prostitution,” Katz said. “This new and dedicated bureau within my office will combat those who would victimize others with aggressive investigations to end this industry.”

The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by the U.S. Department of State, reveals that a staggering 24.9 million people are robbed of their freedom and basic human dignity by sex and labor traffickers. In the United States, traffickers often use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage and other manipulative tactics to force people to engage in commercial sex or to provide labor or services against their will.

With its large percentage of foreign-born and undocumented people, Queens is a prime geographical location for traffickers to target and exploit those that are most at risk. Traffickers often target already vulnerable and marginalized members of society, such as homeless youth, undocumented immigrants, those with substance abuse or mental health issues, as well as those who face discrimination or gender inequality and have little economic or social support systems.

“I want to be clear that we are also here to help the victims find a path to freedom with services and programs that will give them a positive change in their lives and a future without fear,” Katz said, adding that this newly formed Human Trafficking Bureau will have a dedicated staff of assistant district attorneys, social workers, detectives and analysts.

The Bureau will connect those who are being victimized of commercially exploited in Queens to the services, support and tools to enable them to safely exit the sex trade industry or their traffickers.

At the same time, Katz said, she is focused on holding traffickers and buyers of sex accountable for their role in the facilitation of human trafficking. Recent prosecutions demonstrate this, according to the DA’s office.

In January 2020, 23-year-old Tyquan Henderson was convicted of sex trafficking a 16-year-old victim. This defendant is awaiting sentencing, at which time he faces up to nine years in prison.

In February 2020, Katz said defendant David Viltus, 31, pleaded guilty to attempted murder for a “heinous attack” against his transgender girlfriend. The defendant allegedly stabbed her in the head and face repeatedly after she refused to continue to engage in prostitution.

Viltus is expected to be sentenced to ten years in prison later this month. In another case, defendant Julius Heusner, 27, was sentenced on a felony charge of aggravated patronizing of a minor for prostitution-related to paying a 16-year-old child to perform sex acts on him in a parked car. The defendant is required to register as a sex offender and complete a program designed to educate and deter buyers of sex from continuing to exploit young women sexually.

“These convictions demonstrate our commitment to aggressively investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of these degrading crimes that deprive many vulnerable members of our community of their liberty and free will,” Katz said. “Human trafficking is a horrific form of modern-day slavery.”

In creating the Human Trafficking Bureau, Katz appointed career prosecutor Jessica L. Melton as its chief. Since 2007, when New York State’s first Sex and Labor Trafficking laws took effect, ADA Melton has focused her career solely on the prosecution of human trafficking and related crimes. In 2013, she was awarded the prestigious Thomas E. Dewey medal by the New York City Bar Association for her work in combatting human trafficking.