Pennsylvania set to create new office to address Human Trafficking at state-level

11 January 2024- Attorney General Michelle Henry announced today the launch of the office’s first-ever Human Trafficking Section, to address and bolster statewide efforts to effectively investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases and facilitate assistance for victims.

The announcement comes during Human Trafficking Prevention Month, a time designated to educate the public about human trafficking and the role they can play in preventing and responding to human trafficking. As part of the effort to raise awareness on the topic, Executive Deputy Attorney General Michele Kelly Walsh and Chief Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino will testify on January 11 at a Senate Policy Committee Hearing about prevention and enforcement efforts happening statewide.

“Human trafficking takes many forms, often exploiting the vulnerabilities of people in need, leaving them with lasting devastation and trauma,” said Attorney General Henry. “I am proud to announce our office’s new section dedicated solely to human trafficking, and look forward to continuing our work with local, state, and federal partners who are making monumental strides to bring these heinous crimes out of the shadows.”

The Human Trafficking Section will be led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Heather Castellino. The section will take a multidisciplinary approach to tackle human trafficking, which impacts nearly every community in the Commonwealth.

The section will continue to work closely with local, state, and federal agencies to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes. Victims are often moved across jurisdictional lines, making collaboration among agencies critical in investigating and holding offenders accountable.

Additionally, the section will continue education and outreach efforts on the topic, and participate in conferences, symposiums, and presentations of case studies. The section will work internally and externally to train individuals to recognize signs of sex trafficking as they occur, and implement the best practices to address a trafficking situation once it has been identified. As part of that effort, the Office of Attorney General participated in producing an educational podcast for Uber drivers, focused on identifying a potential victim of human trafficking and what actions to take when they suspect someone is in a potentially dangerous situation. The podcast was moderated by Attorney General Henry and will be released by Uber later this month.

In the past year, the Office of Attorney General prosecuted multiple serious cases related to human trafficking, including the examples below:

In April, the office, along with the Pennsylvania State Police, arrested Joseph “Jay” Pulizzi for operating a human trafficking ring across multiple Pennsylvania counties. Pulizzi used promises of money, housing, and security to exploit at least seven victims, many of whom suffered from substance use disorders, homelessness, and other hardships. This case is a textbook example of the tactics often used by human traffickers to deceive vulnerable women into exploitative sex “work” and control them with threats and violence.

In February of last year, a Berks County man, Hector Rivera, was convicted of 15 charges related to trafficking a young woman in his community. Rivera exploited the woman’s battle with addiction and then coerced her to have sex with men in exchange for money. Rivera kept all of the money from these transactions for himself. In May, he was sentenced to 33 ½  to 69 years in prison, ensuring that he can no longer take advantage of vulnerable individuals.

If you are a victim of human trafficking and need help or suspect that someone else is a victim,  please contact the Pennsylvania State Police Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-292-1919; email tips@pa.gov; or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline by calling or texting 233733 (befree) to 1-888-373-7888.