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November 06, 2017

Uber driver helps woman he picked up at PHL escape alleged human traffickers

Officials are crediting an Uber driver with helping a victim of human trafficking escape her alleged pimps.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office said Sunday that Kashamba John, 29, and Arianna Somerville, 27, both of Decatur, Georgia, have been charged with allegedly luring the victim to the East Coast and forcing her into prostitution.

Prosecutors said the 21-year-old woman met a third defendant, Tyler Bachtel, in a Los Angeles nightclub, where he convinced her to fly to Atlanta to potentially make thousands of dollars a week as an escort.

When the alleged victim arrived, she met Bachtel's "business partner," John, who investigators said forced her to have sex with up to 30 men a day, working from 8 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. Somerville arranged the victim's "dates" with ads on the website Backpage, officials said.

Prosecutors said John kept all the money the woman earned and took possession of all her belongings.

Investigators said John had the victim fly to Philadelphia on Oct. 5, 2016, and set up in a hotel room in King of Prussia where she was to have sex with more men. After arriving at Philadelphia International Airport, John had ordered her an Uber from there to the hotel.

In the car, the alleged victim broke down, telling the driver that she was a victim of human trafficking and that she wanted to go to the police, according to prosecutors. The driver got the attention of a state trooper, who took the woman to a local police barracks.

In a statement, Uber said the company was "incredibly proud"  of the driver's response. 

"Uber is deeply committed to safety in the communities we serve and we want to do our part to help end the transportation of trafficked people," the statement read. "This driver has set an example that everyone should follow.”

After a months-long investigation, John, Somerville and Bachtel each were charged in September with trafficking in individuals, involuntary servitude, prostitution, conspiracy, corruption organizations and related offenses.

John and Somerville had a preliminary hearing on Friday. John's bail was set at $1 million, while Somerville's was set at $50,000.

Bachtel remains a fugitive.