by SHAUN SMITH
A Ventnor man was indicted on first-degree charges of human trafficking and aggravated sexual assault for allegedly operating a male prostitution ring from his North Newport Avenue apartment.
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said that Marc A. Branch, 40, of Ventnor allegedly gave narcotics to young men, including at least one minor, and prostituted them to male clients. The indictment also charges a client who allegedly sexually assaulted a minor and a third man who allegedly tried to conceal evidence.
Hoffman stated in a release that Branch allegedly lured vulnerable young males, ranging in age from their teens to their early 20s, to his Ventnor apartment on North Newport Avenue by offering them money, drugs, friendship and, in some cases, shelter.
He allegedly gave them cocaine, heroin and alcohol so that he could control them and prostitute them to male clients, who paid up to $200 per sex act. Branch allegedly solicited clients for the prostitution ring by advertising on Craigslist with naked photos of the young males. He also allegedly used Twitter, Facebook and other websites.
Francis H. Forvour, 47, of Maple Shade, an alleged client, was charged with Branch in the count of first-degree aggravated sexual assault. In 2011 or early 2012, Forvour allegedly performed oral sex on a male, under 16, who was unconscious. Branch allegedly offered the boy marijuana to smoke that was laced with another drug, which caused him to pass out. Forvour allegedly paid Branch for that sex act.
Forvour also is charged with second degree sexual assault on a minor and third degree endangering the welfare of a child in relation to that incident. In addition, Forvour is charged with Branch with second degree conspiracy and engaging in prostitution with a person under 18, and he is charged with third aggravated criminal sexual contact for allegedly fondling another young man who was asleep.
“We charge that Branch plied troubled young men with drugs in order to ensnare them in a life of prostitution,” said Hoffman. “The level of his depravity is illustrated by the incident charged in the indictment in which he allegedly rendered an underage boy unconscious using narcotics so Forvour could sexually assault him, all to turn a quick profit. This type of callous sexual exploitation of the very vulnerable fits a classic pattern of human trafficking.”
“Through new directives, training and alliances, we are focusing law enforcement throughout New Jersey on uncovering and prosecuting these heinous crimes,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Working with partners like the FBI, our new Human Trafficking Unit will continue to coordinate operations involving all levels of law enforcement to rescue victims and bring human traffickers to justice. We are maintaining a high level of vigilance in the run-up to the Super Bowl, because we know that this blockbuster event has the potential to attract these criminal elements.”
The third defendant, Shaun P. Hussey, 29, of Margate, is charged with third-degree conspiracy, along with Branch and Forvour, for allegedly conspiring with them to try to tamper with witnesses and conceal evidence after Branch was arrested and jailed in October 2012. The indictment alleges that Forvour attempted to phone the minor he allegedly assaulted in an effort to convince him to give a statement exonerating Branch.
It is further alleged that Forvour called a relative of the other young man he fondled in an attempt to contact that victim. Hussey allegedly logged onto Branch’s social media sites and deleted photos and information he believed might incriminate Branch. Hussey also is charged with hindering the apprehension or prosecution of another person, a third degree offense.
Branch was arrested in this case on Oct. 19, 2012 and was initially jailed with bail set at $250,000. He currently is serving a state prison sentence for possession of drugs. Forvour was arrested on Dec. 21, 2012. He is being held in the Burlington County Jail with bail set at $100,000.
According to Hoffman, a state grand jury indicted Branch on charges of first degree human trafficking, first degree aggravated sexual assault, second and third degree conspiracy, second degree promoting organized street crime, second degree engaging in prostitution with a person under 18, third degree promoting prostitution, third degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth degree maintaining a nuisance. The indictment is the result of an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Human Trafficking Unit and the FBI Human Trafficking Task Force in Atlantic City.
The first-degree charge of human trafficking carries a sentence of 20 years to life in state prison and a criminal fine of up to $200,000. The first-degree charge of aggravated sexual assault carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, with a period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. Fourth-degree crimes carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez Jr. in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Atlantic County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
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 closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, D.C., which maintains a national, toll-free tipline 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.