Pittsfield man pleads guilty in sex trafficking ring

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PITTSFIELD — A city man has admitted that he allowed his apartment to be used as a place for prostitutes to meet their clients and had sex with at least five of those women as payment.

Joseph Van Wert, 68, will spend up to five years in prison for his participation in a sex trafficking ring that already netted his co-defendant, Randy Lambach, a prison sentence of up to 12 years.

Van Wert pleaded guilty Tuesday in Berkshire Superior Court to one count of conspiracy to traffic people for sexual servitude, five counts of paying for sexual conduct and one count of witness intimidation. He was held in custody after that guilty plea, pending the official imposition of his sentence Thursday afternoon.

Lambach, who was the apparent ringleader of the operation, would recruit women, usually ones who were more vulnerable because of some type of drug addiction or homelessness, and arrange for them to prostitute themselves with clients for a fee. He would post online ads featuring the women, transport them to their appointments throughout Berkshire County and pay them with a portion of the cash or with drugs.

One of the places Lambach would take the women to meet their clients was Van Wert's apartment in the Capitol Square Apartments building on North Street. Van Wert incurred the witness intimidation charge for yelling "Rat!" at one of the women cooperating with police in their investigation into the trafficking allegations.

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Van Wert's sentencing hearing was scheduled for Thursday to allow any victims the opportunity to address the court.

Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Stephanie Ilberg said that while the victims were supportive of the state's sentencing recommendation, none wished to appear in court.

The sentence was the result of an agreed-upon sentencing recommendation between Ilberg and Van Wert's attorney, Colin Keefe.

After Van Wert completes his prison sentence, he will serve five years of probation. During that time, he will be required to abide by conditions including registering as a sex offender, having no contact with any of the victims, having no unsupervised contact with anyone younger than 18 and undergoing a mental health evaluation.

He will serve his sentence at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Cedar Junction and will receive credit for 297 days of time already served in custody.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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