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Valley sex sting nabs 17 men seeking minors

Sheriff Jerry Greene, right, talks to reporters Monday at the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office about a sex sting over the weekend that resulted in 17 arrests. At left is Maj. Jeff Allen. On the table are the mug shots of the men who are charged....Staff photo / Ed Runyan

YOUNGSTOWN — “The message is: Since they’re not going away, we’re not going away,” Sheriff Jerry Greene said Monday of the arrests of 17 men Friday through Sunday in the latest sex-sting operation of the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force.

All 17 were charged with various offenses when each answered an advertisement on websites and tried to arrange for sex with minors, according to Greene.

Of the 17, 16 were in the Mahoning County jail Monday and will be arraigned today in Mahoning County Area Court in Canfield. A 17th person was arrested in Columbiana County and will be arraigned there.

The 17 men arrested are from as near as Youngstown, Niles and Struthers. Two truck drivers arrested are from Louisiana and New Jersey.

Most of the charges are felonies with some of the charges carrying a penalty of up to three years in prison if convicted.

Greene said the images found on some of the suspects’ cellphones are “quite frankly, appalling.” On the phone of one suspect were images of “children and infants and toddlers, and that was a little bit rough,” he said.

“You see something, and you think you’ve never seen anything worse, and then we do another (sting operation) and it hits home again that we’re really making a difference by doing this,” the sheriff said.

Green said when this operation began Friday, the number of people arrested was low, and Greene said he wondered if the earlier stings and the publicity they got was stopping people from engaging in this type of activity.

“But unfortunately, they’re out there. The first day we did it was slow, and then day two was just one after another after another,” Green said of arrests.

Maj. Jeff Allen of the sheriff’s office said it takes more time to download these images to a law enforcement computer and to process them, but the images are likely to lead to additional charges.

Allen said this sting produced an especially high number of men charged with compelling prostitution, a third-degree felony. That charge is filed when someone speaks with an adult over the phone “arranging to pay for sex with a child.” Allen said in that scenario, the individuals seeking to have sex with a child “have to know (the child) is being trafficked.” And he said that behavior “is very disturbing to us.”

Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force sex stings involve law enforcement officers pretending to arrange sexual encounters with children and then arresting the individuals when they show up, but Greene said he believes many such individuals have actually carried out the real thing.

Allen said the type of child frequently being trafficked in this way in real life is one who is lacking in family support, especially when they have a parent who is addicted to drugs. There was such a case not long ago in Mahoning County, Greene said.

Allen said 21 people arrested during a sting last year is the highest number that the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force has had during about six operations in recent years.

Greene said he believes fear of being arrested stops some people from seeking sex with children. Allen said he knows people trying to arrange sex with children are scared because some will say so during the sting. “So I do believe we are making a difference,” Allen said.

The Mahoning Valley sex sting operation was part of a larger operation Friday through Sunday from the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called Operation Time’s Up. Four additional people were arrested for trying to buy sex with children in Scioto and Franklin counties, according to an attorney general’s news release.

Outside of the Mahoning Valley, 35 “johns” also were arrested for “seeking to buy sex,” the release states.

The 16 people who were in the county jail and facing arraignment are:

Gary R. Minch Jr., 49, of West Alexander, Pa., a machinist, compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning and possession of criminal tools;

Jeremiah Torrence, 32, of Akron, mechanic, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, pandering obscenity involving a minor, two counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles and single counts of importuning and possessing criminal tools;

Carlos Rush, 57, of Warren, security officer, compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Mark J. Dupuis, 26, of New Iberia, La., truck driver, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning and possessing criminal tools;

John Burnett, 35, of Youngstown, machinist, compelling prostitution, importuning, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles and possessing criminal tools;

Michael Beal, 44, of Deerfield, roofing contractor, importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Gary Wellendorf, 64, of Struthers, importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Glen A. Jones, 58, of Clark, N.J., truck driver, compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Herbert Lashorn, 46, of Akron, truck driver, compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Justin Teague, 44, of Poland, casino employee, importuning, attempted sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Benjamin Virga, 52, of Shelby, Mich., auto paint delivery, importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles and possessing criminal tools;

Thomas Baker Sr., 36, of Warren, fast food general manager, compelling prostitution, attempted sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Thomas Ashby, 34, of Warren, moving company worker, compelling prostitution, attempted sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Jay Emmert, 33, of Niles, roofer / construction, importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools;

Robert Hartsock, 46, of Struthers, plumbing, compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possession of criminal tools;

Ronnie Lampkin, 38, of Youngstown, importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools.

Jake McMahon, 28, of New Castle, Pa., was charged with felony compelling prostitution, attempt to commit an offense and possession of criminal tools.

He was charged by East Palestine police and was booked into the Columbiana County jail. He was arraigned Monday in Columbiana County Municipal Court in Lisbon, where Judge Katelyn Dickey set bond at $10,000. He returns for his next hearing Aug. 28. He was ordered to have no contact with any juvenile.

The local law enforcement agencies that participated in the sting are the sheriff’s office, Austintown Police Department, Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office, Cortland Police Department, East Palestine Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Ohio Internet Crimes against Children Task Force, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ohio Investigative Unit, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Salem Police Department, Warren Police Department and Youngstown Police Department.

erunyan@vindy.com

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