Lawsuit accuses Washington-area police of involvement in sex-trafficking ring

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WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - A woman has accused two former members of a Virginia police department of sexually assaulting her as part of a deal to protect the leader of a human trafficking ring, according to a lawsuit filed on Thursday night.

The woman, who is referred to only as Jane Doe because she is a trafficking victim, alleges that the Fairfax County, Virginia, police department, including its former chief Edwin Roessler, knew that some officers were possibly participating in and protecting the ring, but allowed the officers to retire with full pensions rather than prosecute them.

Roessler did not respond to requests for comment sent to his LinkedIn profile or email.

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A spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-area Fairfax County Police Department said the department was handling other matters and did not have any immediate comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses two former officers of having had sex with trafficking victims, including the plaintiff.

It also accuses two other former officers, Roessler and the county of thwarting trafficking investigations.

The two officers accused of sexual assault could not be reached by Reuters, while those accused of interfering with the investigations did not respond to LinkedIn messages.

The lawsuit says the FBI was aware of possible crimes by the officers after agents discovered their numbers on a cell phone used by the plaintiff, and referred the matter to the Fairfax County Police.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on any specific case, but told Reuters the bureau takes allegations of criminal misconduct seriously.

"Allegations such as these regarding law enforcement misconduct and human trafficking are promptly investigated or shared as appropriate," she said, adding that the FBI is committed to investigating possible crimes against children and human trafficking.

The alleged obstruction of sex-trafficking investigations by Fairfax officers occurred at the same time the county was receiving a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help fund such investigations.

The defendants "engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct the investigation and exposure of sex trafficking taking place within Fairfax County," the lawsuit said.

The plaintiff is a victim of Hazel Marie Sanchez Cerdas, a woman who ran a prostitution ring in Fairfax County, according to the lawsuit. It said the two police officers provided "protective services to Sanchez's trafficking ring" and she in turn "made trafficked women, including Jane Doe, available to them for sexual services gratis."

Federal prosecutors said Sanchez lured women from Costa Rica and coerced them into prostitution.

Sanchez pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of interstate or foreign travel to aid in racketeering enterprises and was ordered to serve 2 -1/2 years in prison.

The lawsuit also said that department officials repeatedly thwarted trafficking investigations by former detective William Woolf. Officers repeatedly derided Woolf as a "social worker" and portrayed victims as prostitutes who voluntarily engaged in sex work, the lawsuit said.

In about 2014 or 2015, one of Woolf's bosses took a sudden interest in his cases, and directed him to provide a telephone number for one of the victims, according to the lawsuit. The boss also became increasingly hostile toward Woolf's investigations, it said.

Woolf tried to blow the whistle about his boss's actions but officials ordered him to keep his mouth shut, the lawsuit said. Woolf left the department in 2017. He declined to comment.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone, Andy Sullivan and Grant McCool

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