A Queens couple faces sex trafficking charges for tricking two South Korean women into prostitution by helping them pay for their travel and offering them a restaurant job in the U.S.
Authorities launched an investigation after one of the victims came forward to accuse Jung Ja Ornstein, 62, and Eric Ornstein, 49, of sex trafficking. Eric Ornstein appeared at the Queens Supreme Court on March 4 and Jung Ja Ornstein on March 11, New York Daily News reported.
One of the victims answered an ad she found in South Korea in 2015 promising her a job in the U.S. and travel expenses paid by her employers, according to the Astoria Post. As part of their agreement, her employers required her to pay the $10,000 they used for transportation and her passport fees.
Jung Ja picked up the victim at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and brought her to an address in Steinway Street, Astoria. However, the deal suddenly changed, and she informed her that she would work as a prostitute to pay off her debt to the Ornsteins. The suspects allegedly forced her to have sex with strangers at the address.
The woman took the victim’s passport and gave it to her husband. They eventually gave it back and left her alone in March 2017.
However, a second victim also came forward to accuse the couple of forcing her into prostitution. She answered a similar work ad in South Korea in 2001, where her passport was also taken away.
The second victim worked in a bar for a year and only kept her tips as compensation, having to still pay rent from her employer. Her own debts were “purchased” by a woman, who employed her in a massage parlor. She would eventually end up working for the Ornsteins at the same Steinway Street location in Astoria as the first victim. Just like her work in the bar, the Ornsteins let her keep her tips, but then took all of the money she earned.
The second woman would tell Jung Ja she wanted to leave, but would allegedly be threatened with, “You have to work, you owe money. You think I won’t find you?”
Eric was described as loud and violent, would break things and carried a metal pipe when he thought the women weren’t earning enough.
The Ornsteins let the second woman go in 2017, but still allegedly tracked her down in late 2020 and told her she had more to pay. Fearing for her safety, she paid them $8,500 using her savings.
The couple’s court appearance resulted in an 18-count indictment and are facing several charges, including sex trafficking, promoting prostitution, grand larceny and more. If found guilty, the Ornsteins could each face 25 years of prison time.
The Queens couple’s defense lawyer Christopher Cassar claimed that the victims allegedly stole money from the Ornsteins, and set the couple up with the allegations.
“They’re totally false. The complaining witnesses in this case had stolen $30,000 from my client,” Cassar said. “My clients in the fall of 2020 were discussing the repayment of that money.”
He also alleged one of the victim’s male friends attacked the older Ornstein when they visited her home. The couple pressed charges against the attacker but were dropped after being threatened by the “Korean mafia.”
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