ELYRIA — An Elyria woman is facing federal human trafficking charges for her alleged role in a prostitution ring that pressed teenagers and young women into turning tricks to pay off their drug debts.
Ashley Onysko, 23, was originally arrested on state charges last month by Elyria police investigating an online prostitution ring based out of a now-condemned Tattersal Court home. Also arrested in that raid was Jeremy Mack, whom authorities contend was the pimp forcing the drug addicts, including a 16-year-old girl, to sell their bodies.
After Onysko was arrested, police found a key card for a Ramada Inn hotel room on her. When officers went to the hotel, they discovered a 19-year-old woman who told them she was being held by Mack and forced to prostitute herself, FBI Special Agent Kelly Liberti wrote in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court and unsealed Thursday.
The 16-year-old’s story was similar. She told investigators that she began buying cocaine from Mack in March, and then began trading sex for drugs,
The girl said Mack, 37, knew her age but didn’t want to discuss it.
Although court records didn’t show federal charges pending against Mack on Thursday, he is facing state charges of trafficking in heroin, compelling prostitution and promoting prostitution.
Mack has an extensive criminal record, including a 29-hour standoff with police in 2002. At the time of his arrest in April, Mack was on parole after serving a federal prison term for his involvement in a drug distribution ring broken up in 2005.
The 16-year-old told the FBI that Onysko, who allegedly served as Mack’s business partner, told her the second day she went to Tattersal Court that all of the women who lived at the house were prostitutes working for Mack to pay off their drug debts.
“You’ll end up doing it. You don’t think so, but you will,” the girl said Onysko told her.
The 16-year-old said she spent about two weeks going to the house after school and on weekends. On March 29, she told the FBI, Mack ordered photos of her taken and Onysko created an online ad featuring the girl.
“Jane Doe #2 said she did not want to prostitute, but did it because Mack was ‘a guy with a gun who knew where I lived,’” Liberti wrote.
A few hours after the ad was posted, Liberti wrote, Onysko received a call to hire the girl.
Onysko allegedly gave the girl condoms and a room key and another prostitute drove her to a motel, where she had sexual intercourse with her first client before she returned to Tattersal Court and gave the money she made to Mack. She had sexual relations with two more clients in a motel that day, she told the FBI.
When a fourth client showed up, the girl broke down crying and didn’t have sex with the man. That made Mack angry, the girl said, because the man who didn’t get sex was a regular client.
She said she left the house a few days later after her parents found photos of her on Backpage.com.
Onysko, who lived with Mack, told investigators that after a girl became indebted to Mack, she created listings on websites such as Backpage.com and Craigslist.com advertising their “escort services.”
For instance, one of the ads read, “Sexy Cierra is waiting for you…-19: I cater to fetishes, domination, role-playing, private dancing, massages, whatever you desire … call now and allow me to take you to the heights of ecstasy.”
Between December and April, Onysko and Mack advertised the services of 10 different women online, Liberti wrote.
Onysko also fielded calls from clients, setting up appointments for the prostitutes with the men who responded to the ads. The prices, Liberti wrote, were $120 for 30 minutes and $220 for a full hour.
Another of the prostitutes, a 19-year-old woman, told investigators that Mack eventually came to control her life after she began buying heroin from him early this year.
The woman said that Mack would pick her up at her home and take her to the Tattersal Court house to buy and use drugs, Liberti wrote. When the woman didn’t have enough money for heroin, Mack allegedly offered to get her high in exchange for sex.
“Mack began fronting heroin to Jane Doe #1 and her drug debt became too high for her to pay,” Liberti wrote. “Mack told Jane Doe #1 about his prostitution business. Within weeks, Mack told Jane Doe #1 that this is how she would work off her debt and refused to take her home.”
The 19-year-old said that Mack took her cell phone after she arrived at the house and supervised all of her phone calls, telling her what she could and couldn’t say. She also cooked and cleaned and wasn’t allowed to be alone in the house, the affidavit said.
The woman told the FBI that while she was held by Mack she would have sex with between three and 10 clients per day in hotel rooms procured by Onysko. She said she feared that Mack would “beat the living crap out of me” if she didn’t turn over all the money she made to him.
Onysko allegedly received a 30 percent cut of the profits for managing the prostitutes. She kept a notebook and daily planner that tracked the prostitutes’ money and how long they spent with clients, the affidavit said. The documents also contained appointment dates, customer names and earnings that were applied toward the women’s drug debts.
Although Mack allegedly kept the money the prostitutes made, he would provide them with clothes, makeup, food, cigarettes, condoms and drugs, the affidavit said. Onysko told police that she carried heroin with her to give to the prostitutes so they would be able to function while they were with clients.
The 19-year-old said she feared Mack. She described him as an armed and violent man who physically assaulted and threatened to kill the women he was holding. In one instance, he allegedly held a girl by her neck against a wall. He also allegedly hit the 19-year-old in the face when her family came looking for her.
On at least five occasions, the woman told investigators, Mack suspected that the women in the house had stolen some of the heroin and cocaine he was selling. He allegedly told his son, Toby Lewis, to watch the women while he got his gun and then proceeded to perform strip and body cavity searches on them.
Lewis, 18, is facing state drug charges.
Attorney Mike Duff, who represents Onysko on state heroin possession and compelling prostitution charges, said he isn’t involved in the federal case.
“It’s unfortunate that they would want the federal authorities to get involved in what is purely a local matter,” Duff said.
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said Thursday that the case remains under investigation and none of the women Mack and Onysko allegedly forced into prostitution have been charged with a crime, although that is a possibility.
“They’re victims of their addiction and their addiction was causing them to engage in criminal activity,” Costantino said.
In the meantime, the women are receiving counseling and other services to help them recover from their ordeal, said Mindi Kuebler of the Human Trafficking Collaborative of Lorain County.
She said people shouldn’t be surprised that human trafficking was taking place so close to home.
“What everybody needs to understand is human trafficking is an issue in Lorain County as well as throughout the state of Ohio,” Kuebler said.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.