BEVERLY — Four people have been charged in what police and prosecutors say is an ongoing investigation into human trafficking and prostitution in a Beverly apartment.
But lawyers for the four are questioning a woman's account of being drugged and forced to engage in sexual activity for three days.
Police and prosecutors say that the four were staying in an apartment at 327 Rantoul St., where a birthday party took place on March 1.
During the party, Alicia Morasse, 24, and Crystal Culbreth, 43, allegedly told a female guest that they were engaging in sex for money, advertising their services online, and they invited the woman to join them.
The woman told police she declined, a prosecutor said.
Meanwhile, two men in the apartment, identified as Kenel Cadet, 22, and John Connelly, 22, escorted the woman's boyfriend outside and told him to leave, prosecutor Michael Varone told the judge.
The woman told police she drank something that she believes was spiked with some sort of substance, then woke up naked, Varone told the judge. She said over the next three days she was drugged and forced to engage in sexual activity with men for cash, which, she said, was taken by someone in the apartment, said the prosecutor.
She was able to leave only after telling the residents that she had to be in court, the prosecutor said. She subsequently went to Salem Hospital.
Cadet, Connelly, Culbreth and Morasse were arrested Friday by Beverly police in the course of what is an ongoing investigation.
Because of that ongoing investigation, prosecutors asked Salem District Court Judge Allen Swan to seal the complaints against the four.
Swan granted that request, but denied a request to conduct the arraignment and argument for detention at the side of his bench, out of earshot of the public.
Varone filed motions seeking to hold all four without bail as dangers to the woman or the public.
All four pleaded not guilty to charges of trafficking a person for sexual servitude, kidnapping and assault with intent to intimidate a witness during their arraignments Monday.
"What's the credibility of this story? I'd say zero," argued Culbreth's lawyer, John Morris, who questioned why her boyfriend would have just left her there and not called to check on her.
Morris also told the judge that the sealed police report contains no information as to what sort of substance might have been found in the woman's system, nor does it describe any injuries she may have suffered.
Culbreth, he said, is a former certified nursing assistant who is now disabled by mental health and heart issues.
Lawyers for the other defendants echoed Morris's argument, noting that they all have either no record or relatively minor charges.
Morasse's lawyer, Patrick Regan, said his client is also receiving services from a community mental health program.
Morasse and Cadet are also awaiting trial in an incident from last December that started when Cadet was charged with domestic abuse. Morasse, the alleged victim in that case, showed up at the Beverly police station and smashed a glass window after learning she could not post bail for him.
Morasse was sent for a mental health evaluation following that incident, which has been completed.
Prosecutors are seeking to revoke their release in that earlier incident; Swan said he would defer a ruling on that until after the dangerousness hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.