He lured women with drugs, forced them to have sex and locked them in a storage unit, sheriff says

Juan Cruz Jr., 41, was charged with human trafficking.
Juan Cruz Jr., 41, was charged with human trafficking. Manatee County Sheriff’s Office

Two women told officials they were being held and forced to prostitute themselves against their will in exchange for drugs. Now a man is behind bars.

On Oct. 4, a 24-year-old woman came to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and reported she was being held against her will and forced to prostitute herself.

An investigation was launched and detectives found, over the course of several weeks, the 24-year-old and a 29-year-old were given “large amounts” of heroin and crack cocaine in exchange for having sex with several people, according to the sheriff’s office.

According to the warrant, Juan Cruz Jr., of Bradenton, occasionally stayed at a home where the women lived and after he gave the women free drugs several times, told them, “You have a job to do. Now you owe me.”

The “dates,” according to the sheriff’s office, were set up by Cruz, 41. He also collected the money. One woman told investigators she was with Cruz for about two months, the other for about two weeks.

Cruz and the two women moved out of the home after he learned the homeowner stole from him. He told the women he had a “safe place for them to stay” and took them to a storage unit in the 3100 block of Third Street West in Bradenton, according to the warrant.

They were given the drugs and locked in a storage unit several times, according to the sheriff’s office. They would be locked in the unit from anywhere from four hours to overnight.

There was no bedding, toilet or shower inside the unit, but there was some “recording studio” equipment and at least one firearm inside, according to the sheriff’s office. They were often left without food or anything to drink.

The women told investigators they did not leave because they were afraid for their lives. Cruz would threaten them, was known to carry guns and was verbally abusive, according to the warrant.

The women were also addicted to drugs and felt they had no other way to get them without Cruz.

However, after about two weeks with Cruz, one woman said she couldn’t keep up with his requests. In the last week of September, after returning from being away from the unit, she ran to the shared bathroom at the storage unit property and she called for help, according to the warrant.

Cruz threatened her and took off. The woman was able to get a friend to come pick her up, because she could not give a description of where she was to dispatchers.

The woman told investigators Cruz eventually told her to leave after going through her phone and seeing she was upset.

Detectives served a search warrant Thursday and Cruz was arrested and charged with human trafficking.

Cruz, is being held without bond at the Manatee County jail, is identified as a sexual predator, according to the sheriff’s office.

The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement assisted in the investigation.

Sara Nealeigh: 941-745-7081, @saranealeigh