They were looking to have sex with underage girls, but instead were surprised to find the teenagers they had been communicating with were actually undercover agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The operation began on February 15 in Cookeville and continued for three days. The focus of the operation was to find individuals looking to engage in commercial sex acts with females under the age of 18, and those engaged in trafficking others for commercial sex acts.
During the operation, advertisements were placed in the “Women Seeking Men” section of backpage.com. Two women TBI agents posted as individuals offering sex.
“Seven of the men showed up knowing they were there to have sex with a girl under the age of 15,” said acting TBI Director Jason Locke.
During the course of the resulting text or phone conversations, the agents identified themselves as being 14 to 17 years old. Authorities said a total of 10 men, including a college student, a mail carrier and a landscaping company owner traveled to a location to meet for the purpose of illicit sex from a woman they believed to be a minor.
“As significant as these arrests are, we are only scratching the surface,” said Cookeville Police Chief Randy Evans. “It is incumbent upon us to remain vigilant, and pursue and prosecute human trafficking across the state, as we all continue to battle this heinous crime.”
Over the course of the three-day operation, people using 697 unique phone numbers responded to the online posts, according to police.
Authorities said some of the conversations continued after the men learned they were chatting with someone they believed was a minor.
“The total number of contacts, such as text messages and calls, was 5,211. That means the conversations went on and on and on between these men and our undercover agents many times even after they learned they were chatting with someone they believed to be a minor.”
“I am pleased that this investigation was successful,” 13th District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway said. “At the same time, I find it disturbing and tragic that there is even a need to conduct such an investigation in our community.”
The men indicted in the undercover operation include:
- Kenneth Hobbs, 51
- Lance Hatmaker, 30
- Matthew Kenty, 18
- Nicanor Baraiac, 42
- Nathaniel Stalnaker, 19
- Justin Adcock, 28
- Daniel Baltazar, 34
- Marcus Clark, 18
All the men are charged with one count of patronizing prostitution. Police are looking for two others.Click here to view their mug shots from the News 2 app.