Man charged with abusing, robbing, tattooing two women he forced into prostitution, Queens DA says
A Uniondale man forced at least two women into prostitution, physically abusing, robbing and tattooing the victims with his name or address to indicate that he owned them, Queens prosecutors said.
Cleveland Sterling, 34, of Arcadia Avenue, was arraigned Monday on a 21-count indictment in Queens charging him with sex trafficking, second- and third-degree promoting prostitution, second- and third-degree robbery, fourth-degree grand larceny, third-degree assault, petit larceny and fourth-degree criminal mischief.
State Supreme Court Judge Peter Vallone Jr. released Sterling on his own recognizance. Sterling, who faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted of the top charges, is due back in court on Friday.
“Traffickers use violence, intimidation and claims of financial debt to force victims into sex work," Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said. "We are determined to prosecute these predators and get victims the resources they need to get their lives back.”
Susan Crile, Sterling's Queens Legal Aid defense attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors said Sterling met the first victim, then 19, in 2016 and on multiple occasions through November forced her to have sex for money at locations around Queens.
Sterling also took photographs of the victim to create online ads for sex, communicated with customers, arranged dates and required her to turn over all payments for sexual encounters, authorities said.
If the woman withheld cash or refused to have sex for money, Sterling struck her, on one occasion bruising her face and breaking several teeth, prosecutors said.
Last April at the Van Wyck Hotel, near Kennedy Airport, Sterling pushed the victim down the stairs, injuring her ankle and breaking her cellphone, officials said. During another incident last November, Sterling entered the victim’s room at the Airport Plaza Hotel JFK Airport, beat her and pulled a chain from her neck, prosecutors said.
Sterling used the same methods with the second 19-year-old victim, who he first met in August 2021. When she refused to engage in prostitution, Sterling punched and bit her, took her money and sent her photos and video of him abusing the first victim, authorities said.
During the course of the victims' being trafficked, they each received tattoos that were used to threaten them, prosecutors said.
Sterling told the first victim that if she wanted to leave him, she'd first have to cut off her own foot because his name was tattooed on it so her foot belonged to him, prosecutors said. Sterling tattooed the second victim with the name of his street, and then told her that she was now his property, officials said.
Sterling was arrested last month.