Attorney General Dave Yost Announces Success of Statewide Anti-Human Trafficking Sting: Operation ‘Ohio Knows’ Nets 161 Seeking to Buy Sex

COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost today announced that 161 people were arrested and 51 potential human trafficking victims were helped in a statewide operation for which nearly 100 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies partnered with non-governmental and nonprofit organizations.

Operation Ohio Knows, coordinated through AG Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC), was a collaborative effort that took place from Sept. 24 to Oct. 1 to address issues that fuel sex trafficking in Ohio.

“People who traffic other humans are doing it for a really simple reason — money. And if there’s no demand then there will be no market,” Yost said Monday morning during a press conference at the Statehouse, where he was joined by leaders of law enforcement agencies and social service organizations. “Reducing the demand means we reduce the number of people who are victimized by human trafficking.

“We will not rest until no one in Ohio buys or sells human beings.”

The operation included the arrest of 161 individuals seeking to buy sex – three of who sought to buy sex from minors. During the course of the operation, law enforcement officers also arrested individuals who possessed drugs and/or firearms. Most were charged with engaging in prostitution, a first-degree misdemeanor. A change in state law passed in the spring requires those convicted to undergo human trafficking education, a provision promoted by Attorney General Yost to decrease the demand for prostitution.

Among those arrested were a teacher, a professor, a firefighter, a pilot, municipal employees and a city councilman.

Fifty individuals offering to sell sex – men and women – were arrested. Law enforcement officers interviewed 51 potential human trafficking victims, who were provided services from health care and social services organizations.

A simultaneous operation carried out by the U.S. Marshals Service recovered 10 missing children.

Also participating in the press conference with the attorney general was Mandie Knight, a human trafficking survivor, who spoke about the role law enforcement played on her road to recovery.

“When I was being trafficked, I knew that law enforcement was somewhere I could turn to when I needed a safe way out, and that’s what happened,” said Knight, now resource manager for Freedom a la Cart and a wife, mother and student in forensic criminology. “Had I not been arrested, had I not gone to jail, and had I not suffered some consequences for the decisions I was making, I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t be as successful in life.”

Operation Ohio Knows is the latest anti-human trafficking operation under Attorney General Yost, whose office hosts an annual human trafficking summit and provides coordination, education and outreach on the subject.

Statements from Inside the Operation

FBI – FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge J. William Rivers

“The most important work the FBI does is protecting the most vulnerable in our society. Our goal through these efforts is to work with our partners across Ohio to help recover victims and arrest those responsible for their exploitation.”

Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office – Sheriff Rob Streck

“We know human trafficking may cross several jurisdictions, and thanks to the collaboration between our local, state and federal partners, efforts like Operation Ohio Knows allow us to fight human trafficking more effectively. We are not going to tolerate this egregious behavior and will continue to pursue those who prey on others and hold them accountable.”

Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department – Sheriff Christopher Viland

“Sex trafficking is a multibillion-dollar industry that ravages our community’s most valuable resource, our residents. Human trafficking may appear to be a faceless crime, but its victims are people, people who deserve protection. It is a crime that hides and operates in plain sight. Those who profit off the sale of human beings are a catalyst of devastation towards individuals, families, and communities. Those who buy or rent a person are equally culpable in the degradation of the individual and our communities as those who traffic. Conducting proactive undercover sting operations is an effective tactic used to curtail that devastation.

For our partners in social service and non-governmental agencies, and more importantly, those in the community: We could not do this alone. Partnerships are a vital link to connecting victims and those at risk of being victimized to services that can help address the needs of a friend, neighbor, or family member.”

Summit County Human Trafficking Task Force – Summit County Sheriff Kandy Fatheree

“Human traffickers use force and coercion to lure people who are susceptible into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. We are working to ensure the safety of the public as well as the victims. Using the resources available to use, we are attempting to identify and offer help to the victims, while seeking out the criminal organizations responsible and pursuing criminal prosecution against them.”

Southeastern Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force – Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks Sr.

“The Southeastern Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force was proud to support and participate in the 2021 fall sting operation.”

Toledo Police Department – Capt. Joseph Heffernan

“Human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking (the illegal use of vulnerable people to make a profit through sex work), is an issue that the Toledo Police Department takes very seriously. The Toledo Police Department has been a partner with the FBI’s Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Task Force for many years combating these types of crimes. By targeting those involved in this crime, we hope to disrupt this activity and provide assistance to human trafficking victims by getting them connected to advocates and resources. We are happy to partner with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio in participating in Operation Ohio Knows.”

Bureau of Criminal Investigation – Superintendent Joe Morbitzer

“It is BCI’s mission to help our law enforcement partners keep Ohioans safe. As always, we are proud to assist with any operation that targets human trafficking and child exploitation wherever it is found.”

Elyria Police Department – Chief Duane P. Whitely

“The Elyria Police Department recognizes that sexual exploitation has a dangerous impact on our community. Therefore, we are committed to preventing and reducing human trafficking. The Elyria Police Department is proud to work alongside the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office and other state and local agencies that are equally committed to this cause.”

New Albany Police Department – Chief Greg Jones

“The work of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force and its many partners not only provides the victims of human trafficking a way out of prostitution but also provides support for the physical, psychological, and emotional toll it takes on some of the most vulnerable of victims. We appreciate the opportunity to partner with other local and state agencies to be part of such an important mission.”

Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force – Sgt. Dana Hess, Director

“Human trafficking is an explicit, organized criminal enterprise. The demand for sexual exploitation comes from unscrupulous buyers at the end of the human trafficking chain. Any person who pays another human being for sex or a sexual act is fueling the crime of human trafficking. Our task force recognizes the importance of reducing the demand for potential victims of human trafficking and limiting the opportunities for criminals who seek to exploit members of our vulnerable populations.”

Columbus City Attorney’s Office – Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein

“The Columbus City Attorney’s Office receives most of these criminal cases in Columbus and is glad to support this operation to reduce the demand for human trafficking. Sexual exploitation has a dangerous impact on our community – whether it’s a child who has witnessed this while walking to school or a young person who could become a victim themselves. We are proud to work alongside the Columbus Division of Police, our suburban police departments, victim services, and all members of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to reduce human trafficking and make our city safer.”

Grandview Heights Division of Police – Chief of Police Ryan Starns

“The Grandview Heights Division of Police is proud to partner with the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force and assist in Operation Ohio Knows by sharing our resources and personnel.”

Grove City Division of Police – Chief Richard Butsko

“The Grove City Division of Police is committed to investigating and proactively addressing all criminal activity, especially crimes against persons. Human trafficking and prostitution affect a community as a whole, but specifically target potentially vulnerable victims. The intent of Grove City’s participation in this operation is to both enforce violations of the law in the short term and to send the long-term message that Grove City does not tolerate these types of crimes.”

Hilliard Division of Police – Chief Eric Grile

“Prostitution is the product of human trafficking. By targeting those involved in this crime, we hope to disrupt human trafficking as well as provide assistance to human trafficking victims so they can get connected to advocates and resources. We are always grateful for the ability to partner with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement agencies in central Ohio to address this real problem.”

Marysville Division of Police – Chief Tony Brooks and Retired Chief Floyd K. Golden

“The Marysville Division Police is supportive of Operation Ohio Knows and is proud to collaborate with Ohio law enforcement to address the issues that fuel sex trafficking within the City of Marysville and the State of Ohio.”

Reynoldsburg Division of Police – Chief Curtis Baker, Esq.

“The Reynoldsburg Division of Police is proud to be a partner agency with the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force for Operation Ohio Knows here in our jurisdiction. We recognize the toll these types of crimes take on our community and are fully supportive of investigating and prosecuting suspects, while at the same time assisting in seeking recovery resources and support for victims. We look forward to our continued partnership toward ending crimes related to human trafficking and prostitution.”

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