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With help from alert Uber driver, Pa. charges two with human trafficking

An Uber driver flagged down a Pennsylvania state trooper, rescuing a passenger said she was the victim of human trafficking. Now two people have been charged and held for trial in Montgomery County.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro during a press conference last month. His office has charged two people with human trafficking in a Montgomery County case.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro during a press conference last month. His office has charged two people with human trafficking in a Montgomery County case.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Following up on a grand jury indictment from September, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro plans to prosecute two Georgia residents the state says lured a woman to the East Coast from California "with promises of easy money" as a paid escort, then forced her into prostitution. The victim was freed from her captors after they sent her to a client in an Uber and the driver helped her escape.

Kashamba John, 29, and Arianna Somerville, 27, of Decatur, Ga., were held for trial on all charges after a preliminary hearing before District Judge William Maruszczak in Montgomery County on Friday, Shapiro's office said Sunday. Another defendant in the case, Tyler Bachtel, "remains a fugitive."

The charges follow a joint investigation by Pennsylvania State Police, Upper Merion Township Police, U.S. Homeland Security investigators and Shapiro's office, which they submitted to a state investigating grand jury. The jury found that John ran a human-trafficking ring that recruited the 21-year-old victim, flew her to the East Coast, "held against her will and forced into prostitution in hotels in Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania."

The state says the victim met Bachtel at a nightclub in Los Angeles. He recruited her to come East and work as an escort. Arriving in Atlanta, she was met by John, who, according to Shapiro's statement, "immediately forced the victim to begin having sex with men in Atlanta hotel rooms, sometimes as many as 30 men per day. She was forced to work from 8 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. John took possession of the victim's belongings, including her personal ID. John kept all of the money the victim earned through prostitution." Somerville arranged the woman's "dates" for cash through ads placed in Backpage, a Dutch-owned website.

"On October 5, 2016, the victim and (Kashamba) John flew from Atlanta to Philadelphia, and the victim was taken by John to a motel in King of Prussia, Montgomery County, where she continued meeting dates for sex," Shapiro's office added in its statement. .

"John ordered an Uber car to take the victim to a hotel in Philadelphia for a date. Once in the car, the victim broke down and told the Uber driver she was a victim of human trafficking, and wanted to go to the police. The Uber driver flagged down a Pennsylvania State Police trooper," who took her to his barracks. Her story was put before the grand jury, resulting in the charges.

John has also been arrested in New Jersey and Florida on prostitution-related charges, and in Georgia for assault, according to news accounts. He, Somerville and the absent Bachtel are charged with trafficking in individuals, involuntary servitude, prostitution, conspiracy, corruption, and other offenses. After the hearing, John was ordered held on $1 million bail. Somerville's bail was set at $50,000.