Suspects in Austintown human trafficking ring plead not guilty - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Suspects in Austintown human trafficking ring plead not guilty

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

The four suspects in a decade-long human trafficking ring that operated out of an Austintown home appeared in court together for the first time Tuesday. 

Fifty-one-year-old Ronald Hellman, his mother 71-year-old Elaine Hellman, 73-year-old James Jaster, and 43-year-old Lori Jackson, all entered not guilty pleas on their charges related to a human trafficking ring that is suspected to have been in operation for nearly 15 years. 

During court, bond for Ronald Hellman was increased from $75,000 to $500,000. The state had asked for bond to be increased to $1 million, based on the severity of the charges. 

Bond for his mother, a Youngstown Police Dispatcher who has been placed on leave, was set at $50,000. 

Prosecutors argued that Jackson, who has a "lengthy criminal history" including previous felony charges, should be kept in jail pending the trial, her bond was subsequently set at $100,000. 

Jaster, meanwhile, will be kept in jail on a $25,000 bond.  

A fifth suspect, 78-year-old Charles Krusac was also scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, however, he was found dead at the Austintown home at the center of the investigation after killing himself over the weekend. 

Prosecutors tell 21 News that despite his passing, Krusac's name will still likely be brought up during testimony. However, they say they were not depending on Krusac's testimony in order to solidify cases against the other four suspects. 
 
So far, 87 females have been identified from videotapes confiscated during a search warrant in July at Krusac's home that included BCI.  Alleged victims have also been identified through other methods.

The investigation began in July after a tip that Krusac was allegedly creating child pornography involving at least one area juvenile.

The Ohio Attorney General's Office said the investigation then expanded to uncover a large-scale human trafficking ring where Hellman is accused of forcing multiple women and juveniles to engage in sexual conduct with himself, Krusac and others.

Officials say that although several of the charges relate to minors, the youngest victims of the ring were likely in their teens. 

Ronald Hellman was indicted on 22 felony counts:

  • Trafficking in persons, eight counts
  • Rape, six counts
  • Compelling prostitution, two counts
  • Promoting prostitution, six counts

During the course of the investigation, task force members also gathered evidence against two other people who they say were involved in the human trafficking ring.

James Jaster, 73, of Youngstown, is charged with the following five counts:

  • Compelling prostitution, three counts
  • Promoting prostitution, two counts

Lori Jackson, 43, of Warren, is charged with the following two felony counts:

  • Trafficking in persons, one count
  • Compelling prostitution, one count

All four suspects are expected to be back in court later this month. 

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