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TBI: 2-day operation yields 9 arrests in Memphis sex trafficking bust

Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 7:47 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) announced late Sunday night the arrest of nine people for sex trafficking crimes.

Affidavits show the arrests all took place at the River Inn in Harbor Town on Mud Island.

“We pick an area that maybe we haven’t been in before or had a lot of presence in, or that some attention has been brought to in order to come in and conduct on of these operations,” said Jeremy Lofquest with TBI’s Human Trafficking Unit.

The two-day operation this past Friday and Saturday involved TBI, the Memphis Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the DAG’s Office.

Lofquest said the process of luring out these alleged buyers was using the common method of decoy online advertisements where undercover agents would pose as minors.

What comes as a shock to some is these websites can be found on any browser, not just the dark web as some may think.

“There’s no technology know-how needed to access any of those sites,” Lofquest said.

“I think we can only do justice by walking through the door and acknowledging there were nine buyers over two days in a part of our town where you would think ‘it’s not going to happen here,’” said Rachel Haaga, founder and executive director for RestoreCorps.

RestoreCorps is TBI’s exclusive sex trafficking victims’ advocacy partner for West Tennessee, offering advocacy services on the scene of sex trafficking busts like this past weekend.

Haaga and her team were on site for the duration of this past weekend’s undercover operation.

“Whenever there is a takedown, it’s not just the actual trauma of what they’re recovering from,” said Haaga. “In that particular moment, there is trauma. [Victims] just need to feel comfortable. They just need to feel cared for, so that’s what our team is there to do.”

The nine men arrested from the undercover operation are as follows, including if they’ve already posted bond and their next court appearance:

  • Nathan Durham (DOB: 9/15/75), Memphis: Two counts Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts, one count Possession with Intent (marijuana), three counts Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, three counts Possession of a Weapon During the Commission of a Dangerous Felony; $15,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/07/2022
  • Doubse Edwards (DOB: 5/19/66), Memphis: Two counts Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts, one count Possession with Intent (cocaine), one count Felony Possession of Methamphetamine; $40,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/07/2022
  • Cortez Holloway (DOB: 1/26/90), Memphis: One count Promoting Prostitution; $5,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/09/2022
  • Thomas Joseph (DOB: 4/23/55), Decatur, Ala.: Two counts Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts; $7,500 bond (STILL IN CUSTODY) Next Court Date: TBD
  • Lironda Knighten (DOB: 1/9/96), Marion, Ark.: Two counts Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts, one count Possession with Intent (marijuana), one count Unlawful Possession of a Weapon, one count Possession of a Weapon During the Commission of a Dangerous Felony, $20,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/07/2022
  • Mark Pitts (DOB: 10/11/73), Forrest City, Ark.: Two counts Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts, $10,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/07/2022
  • Steven Scroggins (DOB: 11/18/84), Portland, Ark.: Two counts Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts, one count Felony Possession of Methamphetamine; $30,000 bond (IN CUSTODY) Next Court Date: 1/26/2022
  • Patrick Watt (DOB: 1/12/67), Memphis: One count Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts; $15,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/07/2022
  • Anthony Wolfe (DOB: 10/19/69), Horn Lake, Miss.: One count Trafficking for Commercial Sex Acts; $15,000 bond (POSTED) Next Court Date: 2/07/2022

When asked about the history of these men and sex crimes, Lofquest said, “In general, this is not the very first time these people have done this,” broadly referencing convicted sex criminals and not wanting to delve specifically into who was just arrested. “It’s not the first time they’ve come for a minor, so it’s a problem, something that we’re trying to attack all across the state.”

TBI wrote in its release that “several women were referred to RestoreCorps for services.”

The RestoreCorps teams were on standby with their operational go-bag, which according to Haaga, has anything from sweets to blankets to help victims ease their way out of that traumatic experience.

Haaga said it’s humbling that law enforcement gives her organization the opportunity to utilize its skillsets to act on behalf of victims.

“They know that if they don’t have that specialized victim advocate on the scene, then it can feel a lot more different for that victim who is recovering,” The RestoreCorps founder said.

While most of the alleged buyers have ties to the Mid-South, Lofquest told us proximity isn’t a way to gauge the sex trafficking market in a city, in this case, Memphis.

“Just because buyers are local doesn’t mean that they are specific to Memphis,” Lofquest said. “We see people travel hours or they just come from down the street. So, it’s tough to say that Memphis, specifically, has a problem with this. This is a problem we have everywhere.”

RestoreCorps has resources used to equip communities in how to address and fight sex trafficking.

Haaga said it has to do with having deep conversations between parents/guardians and kids.

“When we so easily minimize it down to ‘stranger danger,’ that’s not really helpful to anyone,” Haaga said. “That’s not helpful in isolated sexual assaults. That’s not helpful in the grand human trafficking cases. Oftentimes, there’s going to be a cultivated relationship with an abuser.”

With time, further collaboration with law enforcement, and more communities “equipped” to recognize situations of abuse, the hope is to have a stronger approach to ousting sex trafficking in Memphis and the Mid-South.

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