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BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WKRN) – An undercover human trafficking operation led to nearly two dozen men being indicted for allegedly trying to purchase illicit sex from minors.
In early October, two female Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents posed as young women offering sex on Backpage.com. During the course of resulting text or phone conversations, the agents identified themselves as 14 and 16 years old.
“Our agents identified themselves as minors sadly that wasn’t the slightest deterrent,” TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke said.
Those who were undeterred and still traveled to the location to meet for the purpose of illicit sex at a Brentwood hotel included a computer programmer, automotive engineer, construction worker, and a chef.
“It was scary to watch time and time again these individual come to the hotel and not even blink an eye about paying extra to have sex with a minor,” Homeland Security & ICE Special Agent Robert Hammer said
On Monday, the Williamson County Grand Jury returned indictments, charging the 22 men with a variety of offenses.
As of Thursday, nine have been arrested for a variety of offenses including Francisco Badillo, Ibrahim Demyan, Luis Gonzalez-Garcia, Terry William Garner, Mohamed Hassan, Jeremiah McSpaddin, Ajay Kumar Mistry, Jerwon Robinson and Orozco-Gelacio Navarro.
Eleven of the 22 men implicated in the operation remain in custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Unfortunately, the results of this joint operation demonstrate the need for continued vigilance for signs of human trafficking in our communities,” said 21st District Attorney General Kim Helper. “The fact that so many men were willing to engage in sexual activity with who they believed to be a 14- and 16-year-old is shocking. Our office will continue to vigorously pursue and prosecute individuals involved in any form of human trafficking.”
All of the individuals were booked into the Williamson County Jail on a variety of bond amounts.
The TBI also said on the final day of the operation, undercover male agents responded to advertisements on Backpage.com in an effort to identify and recover potential victims of human trafficking.
Two women responded, but declined services offered through a partner nonprofit agency.
News 2 spoke with Shelia Simpkins who was sold as a sex slave for 22 years, but eventually found a way out.
She said she was overjoyed to hear about the indictments of the men.
“It’s not shocking at all,” Simpkins said by phone. “I’m really, really grateful for the work that the Tennessee Bureau is doing.”
Simpkins said if the demand wasn’t there, sex trafficking wouldn’t be a problem.
“If we focus on the demand, then we actually put a dent in trafficking,” she said. “As long as there is demand, there are going to be victims.”
“This is a demand driven crime and we will never arrest our way out of it,” Locke said.
This makes the second sex trafficking bust in affluent Williamson County, but authorities said it’s happening all over the state.
“This is not a rich, poor problem, this is not a black or white problem, it’s not a citizen, non-citizen problem; this is just a problem impacting all the communities across Tennessee,” Hammer said.
Brentwood police said education is the key.
“This is something we’re trying to educate the public generally on because it has become a prevalent problem,” Brentwood Police Chief Jeff Hughes said. “I think the way to combat this again, not that you arrest your way out these types of situations but you talk about it. You talk about the prevalent of this in our community and you educate people on what you’re trying to combat. I think that collective help to deter this in our community and our state.”
For the men who were indicted, Simpkins said plain and simple they are predators, preying on the young.
“It’s a very diverse population that thinks its okay to buy juveniles and to me it’s paying a juvenile to rape them,” Simpkins said. “That’s the way I look at it, they are paying to rape a child.”