TBI Announces 42 Arrests In Human Trafficking Operation

MEMPHIS,TENN (localmemphis.com) - Multiple agencies including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Shelby County Sheriff's Office and Memphis Police arrested and cited 42 people in Memphis, during Operation Someone Like Me.

 These agencies teamed up to fight human trafficking, particularly of underage girls in Memphis and Shelby County. The three-day operation included undercover agents from TBI who solicited or sold sex on backpage.com

"We will recover more victims we will arrest more buyers were committed to doing anything and everything possible to address this kind of crime," said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. "The women you see advertised online are people, not products we need to be meant to step up and demand better for themselves and the men around them."

Gwyn says the people arrested were among professions like engineers and medical professionals.

Among the arrests was Memphis Area Transit Authority CEO Ron Garrison. He was accused of soliciting sex from an adult and charged with a patronizing prostitution near a church or school. It is a misdemeanor offense. Garrison resigned Thursday morning but said it was due to health reasons.

"The number of men who responded to our ad this week was staggering," TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke said. "The total number of unique contacts was 522 individuals of those approximately 475 different men contacted us in the three days wanting to purchase illicit sex."

A total of 8,779 texts and phone calls were made back and forth between these individuals and undercover agents.

"Those who are charged with these felonies are looking at 15 to 25 years in some cases 8 to 12 years and others," said Amy Weirich, 30th District Attorney General.  

MATA released the following statement Friday morning:

"As it relates to today's announcement from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding former MATA CEO Ron Garrison, this in no way diminishes the contributions of Mr. Garrison at MATA during his tenure over the last few years. MATA and its Board of Commissioners wish him well in his future endeavors. But, our top priority as an organization is to remain committed to the number one task at hand, and that is diligently serving the Memphis public and our customers by identifying dedicated funding sources and ensuring that public transit is a reliable option for the Memphis area. While the leadership may have changed at MATA, our commitment to our mission has not."

The Memphis City Council requested the mayor approved an audit of MATA to ensure tax dollars were not misused.

"We're not accusing of Mr. Garrison of any wrongdoing with the funds or misappropriation. We just want to check and make sure we have an audit to show everything was done decently and in order," said Council Chairman Berlin Boyd.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said the mayor believes a review of the former MATA CEO's operations is appropriate.

Boyd said he feels certain an audit could start next week.

State organizations are working with agencies like TBI to try to put an end to human trafficking.

"As vital as our services for survivors are unless we address the changes needed in the systems in our states that allow this travesty to flourish were fighting a losing battle we must address but the demand and increase the risk taken by those who would exploit," said End Slavery Executive Director, Derri Smith.

 

 

(TBI NEWS RELEASE)

MEMPHIS – A three-day operation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and partner agencies to combat human trafficking in Memphis has resulted in the arrest of 42 individuals on prostitution-related charges; 38 men and four women. Eight men responding to the ads tried to buy sex from a minor. The Memphis anti-trafficking operation, called “Operation Someone Like Me”, is the eighth of its kind in the state between the TBI and partner agencies to help identify, investigate and prosecute trafficking, and rescue victims. Those arrested include a medical professional, engineers, a law student, a tow truck driver and construction workers.

During the three-day operation, undercover Agents posted four ads a day on Backpage.com, for about 7 hours a day. Approximately 475 different men responded to those ads posted. More than 8,779 contacts were made to those ads, through texts or phone calls. In some ads, undercover Agents posed as a juvenile girl. Eight men responded, and paid to have sex with an underage female. Two of those specifically paid money to have sex with 14-year-old girls.  Two juvenile female victims of trafficking were recovered and referred to the Department of Children’s Services.

Along with detectives with the Memphis Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors with the Shelby County District Attorney’s office and the nonprofits Restore Corps and End Slavery Tennessee, TBI Special Agents and intelligence analysts conducted the undercover operation to identify potential victims of trafficking and arrest those seeking to purchase illicit sex from a juvenile.

“We have said all along that this is a demand-driven crime, and this operation demonstrates how very prevalent that demand is,” says TBI Director Mark Gwyn.

“Let me speak directly to men: The women you see advertised online are people, not products. We need men to step up and demand better from themselves and the men around them.”

“Operations like ‘Operation Someone Like Me’ are necessary to protect the innocence of youth within our community. It is sickening to know that there are individuals who prey on our girls and women,” said Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings. “Parents and family members, be aware and know where your children are and what they are doing at all times.”

In 2015, Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation into law giving TBI original jurisdiction over investigations of human trafficking. Additionally, the General Assembly approved funding for four Special Agents, who work exclusively to investigate human trafficking cases and train law enforcement statewide on recognizing and combating this type of crime. These four Special Agents, who have now completed their eighth operation across the state, have arrested or cited more than 200 individuals during that time.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey spent time Thursday in the Memphis operation. “We’re committed – as a state – to doing everything we can to figure it out, arrest traffickers, and rescue victims,” Kelsey says. “We’re leading the nation in our approach, and our work is just getting started.”

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI’s efforts in Tennessee says, “ICE/HSI is proud to once again partner with TBI for Operation Someone Like Me.  HSI is committed to this unified and multi-faceted approach to combating human trafficking across Tennessee.  We will continue to contribute our unique authorities to go after those looking to exploit these women as well as offer our services to the victims of this form of modern-day slavery.”

With the assistance of the nonprofit agencies Restore Corps and End Slavery Tennessee, the women identified as potential victims of trafficking were each offered services, including housing, counseling and addiction treatment.

Earlier this year, as part of its commitment to address this issue, the TBI began the second phase of the public awareness campaign “ITHasToStop,” which includes awareness billboards, online resources, public service announcements, and contact information for nonprofits who work with survivors of human trafficking. Visit www.ITHasToStop.com for more information.

MEMPHIS “OPERATION SOMEONE LIKE ME” STATS

 Since “Operation Someone Like Me” began in May 2015, there have been over 200 arrests/ citations.

The investigation was conducted in Brentwood, Clarksville, Jackson, Chattanooga (twice, once in conjunction with Georgia Bureau of Investigation), Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis.

During the three-day trafficking operation in Memphis, approximately 475 men responded to the ads we posted on Backpage.com. There were a total of 8,779 communication interactions made to TBI Undercover Agents:

  • *Total unique contacts – 522
  • *Total number of texts – 8320
  • *Total phone calls – 459

 As a result of “Operation Someone Like Me” this week in Memphis, 42 individuals were arrested/ cited, including 38 men and 4 women.

Those charged during the Memphis “Operation Someone Like Me” are below.

  • *Ronald Garrison, 60, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Ahmed Khalid, 26, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Juan Valdez, 34, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Melvin Garcia, 35, unknown – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Christian Esquivel, 26, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Efrain Aguilera, 26, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Terry Lewis, Jr., 29, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Ali Awad, 21, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Paul Palmer, Jr., 47, East Ridge, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Richard Hardin, 67, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Sam Lewis, 59, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Paul Roach, 49, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Bret Morris, 33, Bartlett, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *James Walker, 50, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Mario Thomas, 41, Memphis, TN – Possession of Cocaine, Marijuana
  • *David Brumfield, 60, Collierville, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Harrison Chung, 40, Garden Grove, CA – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Milton Davis, 50, Arlington, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Mark Berry, 44, Arlington, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Robert Jackins, 52, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Benjamin Gilbert, 26, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Antonio Chacon, 32, Unknown – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Keten Patel, 33, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Carl McKee, 31, Munford, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Luis Fernando, 45, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Julio Perez, 20, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Marin Rykhlov, 39, Knoxville, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Basel Hasan, 18, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Catasia Williams, 26, Memphis, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Mikael Farris, 35, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • *Emmi Easton, 20, Memphis, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Darry Little, 53, Marion, AR – Patronizing Prostitution (A Felony)
  • *Hilario Vargas Lopez, 40, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • *Oscar Larios, 48, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • *Christopher Rodgers, 32, Braden, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (A Felony)
  • *Demario Davis, 30, Unknown – Trafficking for Sexual Servitude, Possession of Crack Cocaine, Cocaine, Heroin, Oxycodone, Marijuana, Stolen Property Under $500
  • *Mitch Cooper, 43, Humboldt, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (Misdemeanor)
  • *Nat-Matias Armando, 19, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • *Erin Shindler, 29, Bartlett, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Shanqua Patrick, 23, Halls, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • *Isaiah Williams, 47, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • *Uriel Roblero, 23, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)

Most of these individuals were cited, and will have their booking photos taken at the time they are processed.


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