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Three Jersey City men face the possibility of life in prison after they were indicted today on charges they forced a 14-year-old runaway to have sex with as many as 10 men a day in a prostitution operation in Hudson County, The Jersey Journal is reporting.

Michael A. McLeod, 24, the alleged boss of the ring, and David Powell Jr., 29, and Tyree D. Jeter, 27, all of Jersey City; and Demetrius James Hayward, 20, of Summerville, S.C., were charged on multiple counts, including first-degree conspiracy, human trafficking and promoting prostitution of a minor.

McLeod is also charged with sexually assaulting the girl.

The four men face sentences of 20 years without parole to life in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000 for the first-degree charges, and the charge of endangering the welfare of a child offense carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility of 85 percent of the sentence.

Authorities say McLeod used violence or the threat of violence to control the 14-year-old and an 18-year-old woman, who was also forced into prostitution and and act as a handler for the 14-year-old.

The two victims were put up at hotels in Hudson County and were forced to have sex with up to 10 customers a day, making up to $800 for the four men charged. Authorities say Hayward, Powell and Jeter received a small percentage of the money, but McLeod kept most of it for himself.

The four defendants were arrested in May.

“This is a heartbreaking case that fits a classic pattern of human trafficking,” Hoffman said in a statement. “… No child would submit to such horrific conditions unless she faced a threat of violence, which in this case allegedly was conveyed by the ring’s boss in the form of brutal attacks on a second victim.”

The investigation was initiated in April when the FBI Child Exploitation Task Force received a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that photos of the 14-year-old victim, who was a runaway from South Jersey, were being used in ads for a “female escort” on the website backpage.com.

An undercover detective from the task force telephoned the number in a backpage.com ad containing photos of the missing runaway and arranged a “date” for April 9, 2015 at a motel room in Secaucus, authorities said.

When the detective went to the motel, he was met by the 14-year-old girl and the 18-year-old, who was assigned to keep track of her. After the 14-year-old girl offered the detective sex for money, officers entered the motel room and took custody of the two teenagers.

Authorities say an investigation found that McLeod acted as a pimp, while Powell and Jeter rented hotel rooms in their names for the girls. Jeter and Powell acting as security and body guards for the girls, while they were with customers.

McLeod also had Jeter, Powell and Hayward control the girls to ensure they were not free to leave when he was not around, authorities said, adding that Hayward also transported the girls between hotels.

“The FBI, working jointly with our law enforcement partners on the Child Exploitation Task Force, is committed to hunting down the human traffickers who prey upon the children and exploit the vulnerable in our state,” Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel of the FBI Newark Division said.

All four defendants are at Hudson County jail, where they have been held since their arrests in May with bail set at $400,000 for each man.

The indictment was handed up to a Superior Court judge in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Hudson County, where the defendants will be ordered to appear in court for arraignment at a later date.  The indictment is posted with this press release (LINK) at www.njpublicsafety.com.

Acting Attorney General Hoffman and Director Honig urged anyone who suspects human trafficking to report it by calling the Division of Criminal Justice’s Human Trafficking Hotline 1-855-END-NJ-HT.

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