Authorities break up Norristown prostitution ring

Robert Carlos Garcia, 31, Domingo Ruiz, 69, Lucia Vazquez Dela Cruz, 22 and Judith Yazmin Santiago Martinez, 22 were arrested Sept. 27 and charged with promoting prostitution and related offenses, according to criminal complaints filed by a special agent with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

Police and court documents show charges also pending for two additional men alleged to be involved with the prostitution ring or brothel operations.

In June, agents with the organized crime division of the AG’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation were informed of possible prostitution activity at a house in the 200 block of West Spruce Street.

Using a confidential informant who was familiar with the brothel, investigators learned clients were paying $35 or $40 to have sex with several women who were reportedly transported to Norristown from New York on a weekly basis.

Agents placed the residence under surveillance and observed several men shuttling young Hispanic women to and from the residence, sometimes carrying luggage.

Investigators also watched as men would enter the residence, stay for about 15 minutes, then leave.

By mid-September, the operation had moved to the 300 block of East Penn Street, apparently because the West Spruce Street location was getting too “hot,” according to an alleged brothel operator in a text message to the informant.

On East Penn Steet, agents once again observed activity believed to be related to prostitution, with young women being delivered to the location and men coming in and out and only staying for a short period of time. The informant also infiltrated the new location and spoke with an alleged prostitute who corroborated investigators’ suspicions.

On Sept. 26. Special agents conducted a sting operation at America’s Best Hotel, 830 West Main Street. They had the informant place a call to brothel operators to have a prostitute delivered to a room investigators had rented.

The alleged prostitute, Santiago Martinez, was driven to the location by Ruiz. They were both taken into custody after Santiago Martinez reportedly told an undercover agent she would engage in sexual acts with him in exchange for $100.

According to the arresting affidavit, Santiago Martinez immediately told police she was acting of her own volition and no one was forcing her to engage in the activity.

In interviews with police, both are reported to have admitted to being involved with the prostitution operation.

Ruiz told investigators, he was recruited by an unknown man several weeks prior to work as a driver for the ring. He reportedly admitted to receiving a $130 per diem for his services arranging meet-ups with prostitutes 7 to 18 times a day. He also said prostitutes were brought in from New York each week and were instructed to charge $35 for 15 minutes of sexual services.

Santiago Martinez reportedly told investigators a man in Mexico paid a smuggler $8,000 to bring her across the border illegally and she had paid off the debt in full. She also said Ruiz would take all of the money she received after seeing a client and she would see approximately six clients per day.

The sting also netted Garcia and Dela Cruz, after the informant called asking for another prostitute at the hotel.

In an interview with investigators Garcia reportedly admitted to being an undocumented immigrant and a former gang member who had previously been arrested on prostitution-related charges in New York.

He corroborated most of the information Ruiz provided and said he worked in much the same capacity, providing a brothel operator with $2,000 per week in proceeds.

He also reportedly told investigators that a brothel operator would perform weekly surveillance of the Norristown police station to look for any new undercover vehicles.

Dela Cruz told authorities she lived with Garcia and slept in his basement. She reportedly owed $7,000 to a friend who paid a smuggler to bring her across the Mexican border in August.

Days after the sting, investigators issued a search and seizure warrant for the East Penn Street location. Inside, they recovered condoms, lube, business cards advertising prostitution services, tally sheets, and the ID of one of the alleged operators.

Garcia, Ruiz, Dela Cruz, 22 and Santiago Martinez were charged with corrupt organizations, promoting prostitution and criminal use of a communication facility.

They were remanded to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility after each failed to post $75,000 bail.

Preliminary hearings are scheduled before Magisterial District Judge Margaret Hunsicker Oct. 12.