When an older man promised 18-year-old Corinna Slusser a new life in the Big Apple, the former cheerleader left her small town on the banks of the Susquehanna River and told her mom back home not to worry.
But after the teen’s arrival in New York City, she was swiftly ensnared in a Bronx sex-trafficking ring.
Her images were splashed across the Web in advertisements for paid sex, and her body was sold in seedy hotel rooms by a notorious pimp accused of beating up his workers and stealing their money.
Still, the horrors that Slusser suffered at the hands of the pimp and a convicted sex-trafficker would pale in comparison to what her mother and victim advocates fear happened next.
Fewer than two months after the teen arrived in Gotham in 2017, she vanished without a trace from a Queens motel where rooms are rented by the hour — and Slusser’s stricken mom, Sabina Tuorto, says she is still no closer to tracking down her child.
“My biggest fear is that I’ll never get closure, that I’ll never know what happened to her,” Tuorto told The Post in a tearful recent interview.
The mom got to confront her daughter’s sex trafficker in an emotional courtroom showdown at one point but was still left without answers.
“Is she dead or alive? Who is the last person he handed her off to?” a weeping Tuorto said in a heart-wrenching victim-impact statement at trafficker Ishi Woney’s 2019 sentencing.
“Please, Ishi, disclose where my child is.”
The then-24-year-old convict unexpectedly blurted out, “Honestly, I don’t know.’’
Woney is now behind bars, as is one of Slusser’s alleged other pimps, who was sentenced last month to two years in prison for promoting prostitution and drugs.
But neither man has been charged in connection with Slusser’s disappearance, and Tuorto is terrified her daughter’s case is a mystery that will never be solved.
“It’s been four years,’’ the mother noted.
“But I still shouldn’t give up,’’ she said. “Everybody tells me there’s a possibility she’s out there. That’s what I live off. I just pray to God, and I just keep trying to have faith.”
In the months preceding Slusser’s move to New York, her life in rural Bloomsburg, Pa., had taken a dark turn, according to friends and her original missing-persons report.
The former high-school cheerleader had a fraught relationship with her mother, and when her plans to move in with her aunt during the winter of her senior year fell apart, she began living with a friend and soon dropped out of school.
“She was getting into trouble. She got fines, underage drinking. Honestly, I noticed that everything was changing with her,’’ Tuorto said. “She was kind of out of control. I didn’t know how to handle her by myself.”
Then “she packed all her clothes, and that was it. I never saw her again.”
Even as Slusser posted sparkling photos of herself on her social media accounts, behind her perfectly made-up face was a fractured interior wracked by the pain of coming of age in a town that felt too small, said those who know her.
In April 2017, while still in Bloomsburg, Slusser attempted to kill herself by swallowing 50 extra-strength Tylenol tablets, loved ones said. By summer, she was drinking and using drugs frequently, had been fired from her job and was getting cash from sugar daddies she met on the Web site Seeking Arrangements, according to her friends and police.
Slusser was ripe for exploitation, experts said.
So when an older man living the fast life in New York City offered her a place to stay in the Big Apple that August, she accepted, telling her mom she’d be fine.
“It is very common that teenagers will become ensnared with someone who promised them the sun and the moon and the stars, and the teenager might be looking for love … and also may feel that the parents and other responsible adults in the teen’s life just don’t understand her,” said Lori Cohen, CEO of the anti-child-sex-trafficking group ECPAT-USA.
“Traffickers are very skilled at sniffing that out,’’ said Cohen, who has spent decades working with survivors of the sex trade.
It’s unclear who Slusser followed to New York, but she quickly linked up with Manhattan pimp Yhovanny Peguero, then 32, who allegedly started selling her to sex buyers.
Then in Aug. 25, 2017, the pimp and Slusser had a falling out when Peguero allegedly stole $300 from her purse and slammed her against a wall and choked her when she confronted him about it, police sources have said.
Peguero had gotten out of prison four months earlier for attempted drug dealing and already done two previous stints upstate for attempted burglary and promoting prostitution, records show.
Slusser was granted a temporary restraining order against Peguero, but he appeared to continue to groom her from afar and coerce her into coming back to “work” for him, according to court records and Facebook messages from the teen’s account that were reviewed by The Post.
“I just need for you to promise me that when u make that bread u are gonna give me every dollar and u are gonna let me give u [what] u need to buy your clothes and u are gonna let me deal with the rest,’’ the pimp wrote Slusser about 10 days after he allegedly roughed her up.
“Once we come to that agreement watch how imma treat u,” Peguero said.
“I know everything about u that the next guy probably didn’t even bother asking. Like your favorite color, food, or even your birthday. It f–ks with you. We just went through a very bad experience. Honestly sweetheart if u would’ve just stuck to the plan that I had for us we would’ve never had that.”
But by then, Slusser had already fallen in with a new pimp — convicted sex-trafficker Ishi Woney.
On Sept. 4, 2017, Slusser booked a room at a Bronx hotel known for its “substantial sex trafficking activity,” and Woney met her there at some point, court records show.
Between Sept. 10 and 20, the trafficker also exchanged more than 800 text messages with the teen and posted prostitution ads with her photos, the documents say.
On or about Sept. 20, the last day Slusser was seen, she had a falling out with Woney when one of his other sex-trafficking victims grew jealous of their relationship, according to court records.
The trafficker left Slusser at a different site, the Haven Motel in Queens, in a room paid for by another man, and claimed he didn’t know what happened to her next, according to court documents.
Woney was sentenced to 15 years behind bars on sex-trafficking raps related to Slusser in Manhattan Federal Court two years later, in November 2019. He is currently serving his sentence at a federal prison.
Slusser’s mom attended Woney’s sentencing, where she delivered her emotional victim-impact statement demanding answers from the convict.
Woney responded, “I never passed her off to anybody.
“Is she dead or alive? I’m honestly not sure, but I pray she’s alive,” he said.
On the night Slusser was last seen, she was scared and alone and sought out a familiar face for help — Peguero, according to Facebook messages from her account.
Slusser texted him around 7 p.m. and told him that Woney had left her in Queens with “no money and food” and that she needed his help, the messages show.
“I’m just scared to come to you [because] of everything,” Slusser wrote to Peguero, an apparent reference to his alleged assault against her.
Peguero indicated that he would pick up Slusser — but only if she was willing to get back to “work,” the texts show.
Slusser fired back, “If you missed me you wouldn’t say [first] thing ‘is she gonna work for me’… You’d worry about my well being and get me without stipulation. You care about money not me.”
But after a few hours passed, Slusser appeared more desperate for Peguero’s help, and the two made plans to meet up, the texts show — although it’s not clear if they ever got together.
After that night, the teen was never heard from again.
The assault charges that Peguero had faced for allegedly choking Slusser were dismissed when the teen failed to show up for a court hearing, according to Tuorto and police sources.
Peguero was later arrested for promoting prostitution in 2018 and cocaine possession in June 2021, and on Oct. 25, sentenced to two years behind bars for the offenses.
The Post went to Rikers Island after Peguero’s sentencing to interview him about what happened to Slusser. He was adamant that he was not the last person with her.
“Look at the Internet, I wasn’t the last person who was with her,” Peguero cryptically said during the jailhouse sit-down, refusing to elaborate.
“I don’t know anything about that,” he added of her disappearance.
A police source told The Post that Peguero was questioned over Slusser’s disappearance and “looked at hard’’ in terms of possibly knowing something about it.
But the investigation has never been labeled a homicide case and is still considered just a missing-person’s probe.
“At some point, she’s looking for a ride. [Peguero] says he wanted her to behave. She didn’t seem willing to comply, and then at some point, she falls off the radar,” the source said.
Slusser had been keeping in regular contact with her mom while in New York, and the day the teen went missing, she told Tuorto she was ready to come home, her mother said.
When the teen failed to follow up with her mom later that week and her phone went straight to voicemail, Tuorto reported her daughter missing.
In the years since Slusser’s disappearance, a Facebook page was set up in her name, and while the odd tips here and there have been sent to Tuorto and then cops, no real leads have materialized.
“I feel hopeless,” said Tuorto, who has since relocated to Jacksonville, North Carolina, to The Post.
“I waited as long as I could for Corinna, and she wasn’t returning, and it’s depressing. … Sometimes I don’t even want to, you know, I don’t want to be here.”
Cohen said there is a chance the missing woman could still be under a trafficker’s thumb.
“I’ve worked with a number of victims who, while they were trafficked, their trafficker had absolute control over their ability to communicate, and isolation is an extremely effective way to maintain control over someone, ” she said.
“There could be a threat like, ‘You try to contact your mother, and I’ll kill her.’ ”
The expert also noted the inherent danger of the commercial sex trade and the high rates of violence that victims face not just from their pimps but the buyers who purchase sex from them, too.
“Prostitution is lethal,’’ Cohen said. “It’s more dangerous than being a coal miner, it’s more dangerous than being a firefighter.
“I think if you were to look at statistics of lethality, you’d have to look at being engaged in armed combat to compare to the risks of being in the commercial sex trade.”
She said she hopes that Slusser didn’t become another statistic in the cruel business.
“I would love nothing more than to be completely wrong about that theory,” Cohen said.
Additional reporting by Jack Morphet