Crime

Bradenton man convicted of using drugs and violence to force women into prostitution

If you witness a crime, here’s what to do

Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.
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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

A Bradenton man who forced women to prostitute themselves in exchange for drugs has been convicted on multiple charges and faces a prison sentence of up to 120 years, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

Throughout 2017, Juan Cruz, Jr. met women who were addicted to heroin and convinced them to stay with him using offers of food, shelter and free drugs, the state says.

After a few days passed, Cruz would tell the victims that they owed him for what he had provided.

Cruz proceeded to force the women into prostitution, setting up “dates” on the now defunct classified website backpage.com.

The women were forced to meet men who responded to the ads and engage in sexual encounters. One victim reported being forced to prostitute herself more than 100 times.

Cruz kept the money that the women made and continued supplying them with large amounts of heroin and crack cocaine.

The women were threatened with violence or physically abused if they did not comply with Cruz’s demands, according to previous Bradenton Herald reports.

Cruz’s victims also reported being locked inside of a storage unit with no bedding, toilet or shower for long stretches of time.

In total, four women came forward to report Cruz’s abuse. The women were all in their 20s at the time of the abuse; Cruz was 41.

Detectives with Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case with help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Cruz was charged with four counts of human trafficking and four counts of deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution.

On Friday, March 8, a jury found Cruz guilty on two counts of human trafficking and all four counts of deriving support from the proceeds of prostitution. The jury deliberated for nearly six hours.

“Human trafficking is modern day slavery,” said Ashley Dusnik, the lead prosecutor on the case. “Our laws recognize the gravity of the exploitation of these vulnerable women and consequently provide for sentences commensurate with the injury inflicted upon them. The victims demonstrated strength and courage in reporting these crimes to law enforcement and in confronting the defendant at trial. We are thankful for the investigative efforts of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in bringing these charges to light, as well as the assistance of Selah Freedom, whose tireless efforts to end human trafficking have assisted in creating a brighter future for these women.”

A sentencing date for Cruz has not yet been set.

Ryan Ballogg covers arts, entertainment, dining, breaking and local news for the Bradenton Herald. He won first place for feature writing in the Florida Press Club’s 2018 Excellence in Journalism Competition. Ryan is a Florida native and graduated from University of South Florida St. Petersburg.


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