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Trucking company owner: Driver charged with human trafficking seemed ‘religious’

Investigators claim trucker held victim hostage for 8 months in sleeper berth

Police in Cocoa, Florida, along with the FBI, are investigating a woman’s claims that she was held captive by a truck driver for eight months. Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves and Shutterstock

The owner of a small Delaware-based trucking company described his driver, who was recently arrested and charged with holding a woman captive in his truck for nearly eight months, as “religious” and “a nice guy.”

In an exclusive interview with FreightWaves, Narain Airi, owner of refrigerated trucking company Isha Brothers Inc. of Newark, Delaware, said he was stunned to learn that one of his company drivers, Robert Jeffrey Johnson Jr., 53, of Merritt Island, Florida, had been arrested and charged with six felony counts, including human trafficking, sexual battery, kidnapping and aggravated assault with a firearm, as well as two counts of false imprisonment, in Cocoa, Florida.

“I am really shocked,” Airi told FreightWaves on Monday. “He [Johnson] talked about the church and Jesus Christ a lot, so I had not even a one-percent clue about all this.”

Airi said Cocoa police contacted him last week, notifying him that Johnson had been arrested because he was driving with a suspended license, but authorities failed to provide further details.

What happened?

According to the arrest affidavit, the alleged victim admitted she was looking for work as a prostitute in Delaware when she met Johnson, who she said asked if she knew where he could purchase some crystal meth.

After spending a few hours in Johnson’s Freightliner Cascadia, the woman stated that she wanted to go home. That’s when Johnson refused to let her go and hit her in the face, knocking out one of her front teeth, according to the police report.

Instead of taking her home, the woman stated that Johnson kept her in the truck, repeatedly raped her and knocked out her other front tooth. He threatened her at gunpoint multiple times over several months prior to her release.

Police say the woman gained her freedom after using Johnson’s cellphone to text her mother for help in Puerto Rico on Nov. 19, after observing the truck driver enter the password to unlock his screen earlier that day.

Stating that “he was not going to jail because of her or her mother,” Johnson left her at the Flying J Truck Stop in Cocoa, where they had been staying, the woman said. Instead of calling the police immediately, the woman said a truck stop employee gave her a ride to a nearby Publix Super Market in Cocoa, “where she began to feel unwell and an ambulance was called to transport her to the hospital.”

Johnson was later stopped by police after the woman identified the name of the trucking company and the horse logo located on the side of the Freightliner’s cab.

Cocoa police state that Johnson’s daughter, identified only as X.D.V., was also in the truck during this time and corroborated the victim’s story. The child was interviewed by the Brevard Child Protection Team in Melbourne, Florida. 

The FBI is also involved in the case because it spans several states, according to Cocoa police. The police report states that Johnson may have traveled into Canada as well to pick up and drop off loads while the woman and Johnson’s child were in his truck.

When Airi was looking for a truck driver a few months ago, he said Robert Jeffrey Johnson Sr. of New Castle, Delaware, recommended his son, Robert Jeffrey Johnson Jr., for the job.

“He said his son was a nice guy and a very good driver,” Airi said.

Airi said he and the senior Johnson have known each other for nearly 15 years and kept in touch over the years after both drove for a trucking company that he couldn’t recall the name of and that went out of business several years ago.

“This wasn’t just a phone friendship; we went to each other’s houses over the years,” Airi told FreightWaves. “So, when he recommended his son as needing a job, I hired him; he never mentioned any problems. From now on, I will have to look into the back history of the drivers.”

Not the suspect’s first brush with the law

According to court documents filed in Pennsylvania, the younger Johnson was arrested and charged with driving without a license or proof of insurance in November 2020.

Court documents state Johnson was arrested on a charge of unlawful acts as a precursor to prostitution in May 2011 in Hillsborough County, Florida. He was later released after posting a $250 bond.

In November 2008, Johnson was arrested on misdemeanor battery charges in Orange, Florida.

It’s unclear whether he was convicted in these cases.

In November 2000, Johnson was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis in Brevard, Florida. That charge was later dropped.

This is a developing story.

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Clarissa Hawes

Clarissa has covered all aspects of the trucking industry for 14 years. She is an award-winning journalist known for her investigative and business reporting. Before joining FreightWaves, she wrote for Land Line Magazine and If you have a news tip or story idea, send her an email to [email protected].