By JORDYN GRZELEWSKI
Twelve people were arrested on prostitution-related charges in a sting operation conducted by township police, the FBI and officers from the Mahoning Valley Violent Crimes Task Force.
The operation was part of an annual nationwide effort by the FBI and local law-enforcement agencies called Operation Cross Country, and marks the first time Youngstown-area police agencies were involved, said Todd Werth, supervisory special agent at the FBI’s Youngstown office.
He said the focus is on human trafficking, particularly that of young girls and boys.
The nationwide sting, which recovered 168 missing children and led to 281 arrests of people on pimping charges, was the eighth sting in a decadelong effort to combat child sex trafficking. Cleveland nearly had the highest number of children recovered with 16, second only to Denver, which had 18.
“We were seeing that prostitutes were soliciting in Boardman, so we did an operation to arrest the ones we could that night,” said Sgt. Michael Hughes of the township police.
The operation took place Thursday at 1051 Tiffany South Blvd. With the cooperation of the hotel, undercover officers arranged meetings with people they believed to be involved in soliciting prostitution.
Charged with soliciting prostitution are: Seaniece McKelvin, 21, of Warren; Cherelle McKelvin, 19, of Warren; Amy Jo Begeot, 28, of Girard; Jessica Maxwell, 33, of Youngstown; Taylor Bracy, 21, of Youngstown; Michelle Harris, 28, of Youngstown; Sade Elliott, 23, of Youngstown; Constance Adams, 24, of New Waterford; Meschelle Alli, 36, of Youngstown; Kiana Powell, 27, of Niles; and Aaliyah Clark, 19, of Youngstown.
The one “john” arrested by police, charged with compelling prostitution and possessing criminal tools, is Matthew Pupio, 29, of Boardman.
Bracy, Alli, Maxwell, Seaniece McKelvin, Cherelle McKelvin and Begeot also are charged with possessing criminal tools.
A criminal tool is any device used to commit a crime, and in this case refers to condoms and the cellphones used to solicit or compel prostitution.
In addition to these charges, Maxwell is charged with possession of drugs, and Powell is charged with promoting prostitution.
“Obviously the individuals involved in these activities are all charged with local offenses,” Werth noted.
The women were contacted based on their posts on a classified advertising website where they used aliases such as “Candyland” and “Serenity” to solicit prostitution. Undercover officers contacted the women via phone numbers provided at that website, and rooms at the hotel were staged with recording devices.
During a phone conversation with an undercover officer, Powell reportedly offered to bring a 16-year-old girl with her for the price of $1,000. Powell brought Clark with her to the hotel, where, according to the report, “Both females went individually into the bathroom and stripped naked. [The undercover] asked Clark how old she was and she replied, ‘17.’”
According to police reports, women were recorded offering various services for up to $300.
Boardman Police Chief Jack Nichols said officers from the Boardman Police Department who participated in the sting did so as part of their involvement in the task force. “We have a bunch of hotels and motels ... so Austintown and Boardman end up with the bulk of it,” Nichols said of the prostitution issue.
A similar operation took place in Austintown in January.
“I think they’ll become a pretty regular thing,” said Nichols.