By Don E. Woods | South Jersey Times

on September 18, 2014 at 2:53 PM, updated September 18, 2014 at 5:45 PM

BRIDGETON – Two murders last month are connected to a multi-jurisdictional investigation into human trafficking and brothels throughout New Jersey, according to authorities.

Bridgeton police identified the two victims as Jose Ortiz, 24, of North Laurel Street —who was shot on Aug. 16 — and Eduardo Bernal, 32, no address given — who was stabbed on Aug. 30.

During the investigation, authorities said, both murders were tied to a prostitution ring extending throughout the state and operated by Juan Fredy Hernandez-Zozaya, 36, and Elizabeth Rojas Rojas, 33, both of New Brunswick.

According to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, the New Brunswick couple led an organization that managed brothels in New Brunswick, Trenton, Orange, Lakewood, Asbury Park and Bridgeton.

The eight reported brothels operated out of private residences and employed undocumented individuals as the prostitutes.

Hernandez-Zozaya and Rojas allegedly collected proceeds from the prostitution activities and the prostitutes sometimes travelled across state lines for work.

The investigation indicated that both murders were tied to two brothels being operated in Bridgeton and reportedly operated by suspects residing outside the city jurisdiction, along with both victims, Gaimari said.

Ortiz was found dead in the street around 11 p.m. on the 300 block of Bank Street on Aug. 16. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds, previous reports indicated.

Bernal was found stabbed in a North Pearl Street apartment around 9 p.m. on Aug. 30.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office and the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office assisted Bridgeton police in the two murder investigations.

Although the murders are connected with the human trafficking investigation, according to Gaimari, he declined to comment on the connection because the investigations are ongoing.

Authorities arrested Hernandez-Zozaya and Rojas Thursday and charged the couple with harboring aliens for the purpose of prostitution, harboring aliens for the purpose of financial gain and conspiracy to commit these offenses.

According to Fishman, the harboring charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The investigation into Hernandez-Zozaya and Rojas was conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey with assistance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office.