Bringing Light to the Darkness of Human Trafficking (Trafficking in Persons)

juan cruz
Juan Cruz Jr.

Manatee - A Bradenton man, who was already designated a sexual predator, is now facing additional human trafficking charges after the sheriff’s office says two more women have come forward saying he forced them to prostitute for heroin.

Juan “JD” Cruz Jr., who turns 42 Friday, is charged with four counts of human trafficking. He is held at the Manatee County jail on bonds totaling $1.4 million.

Cruz was first arrested on Nov. 17 and charged with one count of human trafficking by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. In December, the State Attorney’s Office formally filed the charges adding a second count. Cruz had given both of the victims in the initial charges, ages 25 and 29, crack and heroin for free initially but later forced them to prostitute themselves in return.

On Wednesday, two additional counts of human trafficking were filed against Cruz after two more victims came forward, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow.

The third victim, 29 years old, was a homeless heroin addict when in March she went to Cruz’s home to purchase heroin, and he told her she looked rough and in need of a shower and some sleep, according to an arrest report. Cruz allowed her to stay and began to give her heroin for free.

On the third day, however, Cruz told her, “You need to work for what you’ve been given,” detective Rebecca Angel wrote in the report. Cruz is alleged to have set up advertising her on for sexual encounters. The victim was forced to prostitute herself more than 100 times, getting only drugs in return.

The victim managed to run away once and was later beaten by Cruz in his storage unit, she told detectives, after he convinced her to meet him. Cruz became more and more abusive, using her as an example to other victims. At times he would lock her in his storage unit for hours or up to two days at a time.

Hurricane Irma provided her the opportunity for her ultimate escape, she told Angel. Cruz had taken her to a client’s home in Palmetto but she escaped out a back door. She eventually found an abandoned home where she rode out the storm and afterward went to Centerstone to detox.

The fourth victim Cruz is charged with forcing to prostitute herself in exchange for drugs was also a heroin addict. Cruz’s cousin had enticed her with an offer to help her make money, according to the report, but similarly as Cruz had done with his other victims, he gave her free heroin for a few days and then told her she owed him.

During the two months that followed, the victim, 27 years old, was forced to prostitute herself 10 to 15 times. When she once tried to leave, Cruz punched her in the face, she told detectives.

Both victims in these new charges against Cruz were also forced to have sex with him.

Cruz was released from prison in September 2014 after serving eights years and seven months of a 10-year sentence after being convicted of lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 15 years old and failing to register as a sexual predator in Miami-Dade County.

He was first designated a sexual predator after being convicted in 1998 of lewd and lascivious molestation of a child under the age of 16 years old in Miami-Dade County. Cruz served two years and nine months in prison for that conviction along with other assault convictions.

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