Human trafficking probe leads to charges
YOUNGSTOWN — Hundreds of charges are being filed in an ongoing human trafficking investigation undertaken by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Mahoning County.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene and Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains said in a press release issued through DeWine’s office on Thursday that more than 100 charges — including human trafficking, child pornography, and sexual assault charges –have been filed in connection with an alleged sex trafficking ring in Mahoning County.
They said the case was presented to the Mahoning County grand jury on Thursday by the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s office, resulting in a total of 104 charges against five people.
The investigation led by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force began in July after authorities received a tip alleging that Charles D. Krusac, 78, of Austintown, was creating child pornography involving at least one area juvenile, according to the press release.
The trafficking task force is part of DeWine’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission.
As the investigation continued, authorities uncovered a large-scale human trafficking ring in which Ronald D. Hellman, 51, of Youngstown, is accused of forcing multiple women and children to engage in sexual conduct with himself, Krusac, and others, the release stated.
It also said that charges were filed against both Hellman and Krusac in August, and that they are facing additional charges as a result of the grand jury presentation.
On Thursday, Krusac was charged with 74 felony counts, which were nine counts of trafficking in persons, nine counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity oriented material or performance, 46 counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor, one count of rape, four counts of compelling prostitution and five counts of promoting prostitution.
Hellman was charged with 22 felony counts, which were eight counts of trafficking in persons, six counts of rape, two counts of compelling prostitution and six counts of promoting prostitution.
Task force members also gathered evidence against two other people with alleged involvement in the human trafficking ring during the course of the investigation, the release stated.
They are James Jaster, 73, of Youngstown, who is charged with three counts of compelling prostitution, and two counts of promoting prostitution; Lori Jackson, 43, of Warren, who is charged with one count of trafficking in persons and one count of compelling prostitution. The charges are all felonies.
The release also said that a fifth suspect, Elaine Hellman, 71, of Youngstown, was also charged with one count of obstruction of justice for allegedly using her position as a police dispatcher to help Ronald Hellman, her son, avoid contact with law enforcement.
Officials said that the charges filed on Thursday relate to a total of nine different adult and juvenile victims, although the ongoing investigation has identified nearly 90 potential victims and additional charges are possible.
“This is a truly horrific case. Our investigation found that many of these victims faced violence if they tried to resist or their addictions were exploited to force their compliance,” DeWine said in the release. “Ohio continues to be a leader in the fight against human trafficking, and I commend our law enforcement team for working aggressively to break up this human trafficking ring and get help for the victims.”
Sheriff Greene said in the release that the results of the investigation and the number of victims involved and exploited over several years is “extremely troubling.”
“The number of man-hours put into this investigation by our task force brought about these arrests and charges, which re-affirms the fact that these types of task forces are a necessity in continuing to be aggressive with these types of crimes,” he added.
Gains said in the release that the “horrific case” highlights the need for effective law enforcement against those involved in human trafficking.
“Let me make it perfectly clear that these young women and girls are truly victims, and I encourage anyone with knowledge of human trafficking to contact their local police. That is the only chance these young women have is by incarcerating these human traffickers,” he said.
Anyone with information related to this investigation is urged to contact the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Tip Line at 330-480-4940.
The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force is led by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and includes representatives from the Austintown Police Department, Howland Township Police Department, Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ohio Investigative Unit, Ohio State Highway Patrol, and the Warren Police Department.
The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission assists local law enforcement agencies in combating organized crime and corrupt activities through the creation of multi-jurisdictional task forces. The commission is composed of members of the law enforcement community and is chaired by the Ohio Attorney General.