KNOXVILLE (WATE) – After a three-day investigation, agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and detectives with the Knoxville Police Department arrested 32 men and women on prostitution and human trafficking-related charges.
TBI said two of the men arrested, including Grace Baptist children’s pastor Jason Kennedy, responded to ads for what they thought were girls under the age of 18. Investigators say those arrested come from every sector. Grace Baptist’s website lists Kennedy as a pastor for birth through fifth grade.
“All of these people are somebody’s neighbor,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. During the three-day investigation, undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com.
Court records say in Kennedy’s case, he allegedly responded to an ad on Backpage.com on May 19 via a text message. The records say he was made aware that a second female who was under 18 would be present and they negotiated a $100 fee for a half hour of sex with both females.
Kennedy was told to go to Pilot on Merchants Drive for instructions on where to meet the girls and was then told to go to Best Western on Pratt Road.
The documents say he was then told the girl was only 15, but Kennedy allegedly said he wanted to have sex with both the underage girl and the other woman. After placing $100 on the counter and removing his pants, the documents say he was taken into custody by law enforcement.
“Finding these people who are trying to buy Tennessee children is a priority for us,” said Gwyn. “We want anyone responding to those ads to think there may be a TBI Agent on the other end of it. We will do whatever we can to make a difference in reducing the human trafficking that takes place in Tennessee.”
According to the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking Kate Trudell, more than 90 minors are listed for human trafficking online in Tennessee each month. “Human trafficking is a demand driven crime,” said Trudell.
During the investigation, more than 300 contacts were made to ads placed on the website, according to TBI. They said one of their agents posed as a juvenile girl and the ad received more than two dozen contacts.
“Human trafficking is a scourge on society,” said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch. “We will continue to commit all the necessary resources and work alongside our law enforcement partners to help protect our most precious resource our children.”
Those arrested face charges for patronizing prostitution, prostitution and more. The suspects include:
- Michael Clayton, 43, of Clinton
- Larry Quarles, 52, of New Market
- Gerrado Merchant, 36, of Jacksboro
- James Perkins, 50, of Sweetwater
- Greg Hensley, 44, of Mascot for
- Luis Portillo, 19, of Marryville
- Jaton Johnson, 38, of Knoxville
- Samuel Rivers, 27, of East Point, Georgia
- Prashante Bhatka, 35, of Columbus, North Carolina
- James Warren, 32, of Newport
- Dariuz Jurczak, 45, of Knoxville
- Gary Bauer, 56, of Heiskell
- Nicholas Rains, 24, of Maryville
- Ignacio Jimenez, 38, of Maryville
- Patrick Douthat, 27, of Knoxville
- Brandon Slatton, 22, of Knoxville
- Jeffrey Sweeney, 63, of Knoxville
- Robert Aiken, 48, of Jacksboro
- Atari McNabb, 28, of Knoxville
- Zubin Parakh, 32, of Oak Ridge
- Jonathan McCarthy, 30, of Augusta, Georgia
- Jose Juarez, 38, of Knoxville
- Robert Lambert, 40, of Knoxville
- Cornelius Turner, 25, of Memphis
- Jerry Rhode, 63, of Kodak
- Zachary Desha, 24, of Knoxville
- Jason Kennedy, 46, of Knoxville
- Kelsey Martin, 23, Boaz
- Alexis Phelps, 21 of Knoxville
- Shirley Henry, 23, of Clinton
- Stephanie Thomas, 23, of Knoxville
- Crystal Myers, 37, of Knoxville