Two women ran a prostitution ring out of apartments throughout the city that trafficked in girls as young as 13, federal prosecutors said.
Police arrested five people Monday afternoon, including the alleged madam, 29-year-old Darlene DeLeon, a mother of three. The other alleged madam, 51-year-old Maria Soly Almonte, also known as "SoSo Wavy," lived on 145th Street and ran the business out of a homeless shelter. A sixth defendant is at large.
They face charges including sex trafficking of a minor, conspiracy, posession of child pornography and enticement of a minor.
Almonte allegedly employed at least five girls under age 18 at various times this year and last in locations in the Bronx and Harlem, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan.
When reached by NBC 4 New York for comment about an underage brothel allegedly being run out of its 145th Street shelter, the Department of Homeless Services said it would immediately replace landlord-provided security with DHS peace officers and contracted security officers.
Nonprofit service provider staff will also be removed and replaced with DHS staff, spokeswoman Lauren Gray said.
"Our first priority is to take swift action that will ensure the safety of the families with children living at this location," said Gray.
Meanwhile, DeLeon's neighbors in the Bronx say they're relieved the operation has been shut down. Both police and neighbors on the 19th floor of the public housing building said DeLeon regularly had men waiting outside her apartment.
"I didn't know what was going on inside," said one woman who asked not to be identified. "I just knew there were too many guys in there. Too many guys. Night, day afternoon, all the time."
The neighbor said she called the city's Housing Authority to complain about the chaos in the hallway and the unsanitary conditions that spilled out of the apartment, including condoms in the hallway and bodily fluids on the walls.
Neighbors say they're relieved the operation was shut down.
"I never imagine that happened next to me," said Maria Rios. "I have my grandkids here, I take care of kids. I never think that's gonna happen here."
The Manhattan shelter on 145th Street will be