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Former MATA CEO among 42 arrested in human trafficking investigation

Published: Jan. 27, 2017 at 3:07 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2017 at 9:45 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Multiple agencies arrested and cited 42 people in Memphis during Operation Someone Like Me.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Memphis Police Department, Shelby County District Attorney, and other law enforcement officers teamed up to combat human trafficking, particularly of underage girls, in Shelby County.

"We're committed to doing anything possible to prevent these crimes," TBI director Mark Gwyn said. "The message is that no one is above the law. Also the message is that we are out here looking. So when you go online and you think you are texting and chatting with an underage innocent female you may not be and this is a warning."

Gwyn said the buyers were among all types of professions.

"The buyers ran the gamete. It included a medical professional, an engineer, a law student, and a tow truck driver," Gwyn said. "The work of our agents' intelligent analyst and law enforcement partners should send a strong message that we won't stand for these types of crime in Memphis or our state."

Among the arrests was Memphis Area Transit Authority CEO Ron Garrison, according to TBI Director Mark Gwyn. Garrison has since resigned from his post as CEO.

"The number of men who responded to our ad this week was staggering," TBI Deputy Director Jason Locke said. "The total number of unique contacts was 522 individuals of those approximately 475 different men contacted us in the three days wanting to purchase illicit sex."

TBI spokesperson Josh DeVine said Garrison was charged with a misdemeanor offense. He is accused of soliciting sex from a person whom he believed to be an adult.

MATA released the following statement Friday morning:

As it relates to today's announcement from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding former MATA CEO Ron Garrison, this in no way diminishes the contributions of Mr. Garrison at MATA during his tenure over the last few years. MATA and its Board of Commissioners wishes him well in his future endeavors. But, our top priority as an organization is to remain committed to the number one task at hand and that is diligently serving the Memphis public and our customers by identifying dedicated funding sources and ensuring that public transit is a reliable option for the Memphis area. While the leadership may have changed at MATA, our commitment to our mission has not.

TBI said 475 men responded to ads posted on websites like Backpage and Craigslist. The men wanted to solicit sex from the undercover agents, who were posing as teenage girls.

Some of those men agreed to meet the decoys at hotels or homes in the area, then offered money in exchange for sex.

Weirich added that several of the men arrested specifically tried to solicit sex from underage girls, a felony in Tennessee.

Gwyn emphasized that the women in these situations are often victims and need help. He added that to really address the problem, the focus needs to shift toward demanding men to refrain from patronizing prostitution.

"Women you see advertised online are people, not products," Gwyn said. "We need men to step up and demand better from themselves and the men around them."

This undercover operation comes as TBI cracks down on human trafficking state-wide with a billboard campaign.

"What has resulted from that work was eight felony arrests," Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said. "This is different than prostitution stings that you have covered in the past. These are individuals that came to a hotel, hoping to have sex with minors."

Weirich said those charged with felonies could be sentenced to 15-25 years in prison, with others facing 8-12 years.

Below is the list of 42 people arrested in the sting and the charges they face:

  • Ronald Garrison, 60, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Ahmed Khalid, 26, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Juan Valdez, 34, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Melvin Garcia, 35, unknown - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Christian Esquivel, 26, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Efrain Aguilera, 26, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Terry Lewis, Jr., 29, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Ali Awad, 21, Cordova, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Paul Palmer, Jr., 47, East Ridge, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Richard Hardin, 67, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Sam Lewis, 59, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Paul Roach, 49, Cordova, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Bret Morris, 33, Bartlett, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • James Walker, 50, Cordova, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Mario Thomas, 41, Memphis, TN – Possession of Cocaine, Marijuana
  • David Brumfield, 60, Collierville, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Harrison Chung, 40, Garden Grove, CA - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Milton Davis, 50, Arlington, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Mark Berry, 44, Arlington, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Robert Jackins, 52, Cordova, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Benjamin Gilbert, 26, Cordova, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Antonio Chacon, 32, Unknown - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Keten Patel, 33, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Carl McKee, 31, Munford, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Luis Fernando, 45, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Julio Perez, 20, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Marin Rykhlov, 39, Knoxville, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Basel Hasan, 18, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution near Church or School
  • Catasia Williams, 26, Memphis, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • Mikael Farris, 35, Cordova, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • Emmi Easton, 20, Memphis, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • Darry Little, 53, Marion, AR – Patronizing Prostitution (A Felony)
  • Hilario Vargas Lopez, 40, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • Oscar Larios, 48, Memphis, TN - Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • Christopher Rodgers, 32, Braden, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (A Felony)
  • Demario Davis, 30, Unknown - Trafficking for Sexual Servitude, Possession of Crack Cocaine, Cocaine, Heroin, Oxycodone, Marijuana, Stolen Property Under $500
  • Mitch Cooper, 43, Humboldt, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (Misdemeanor)
  • Nat-Matias Armando, 19, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • Erin Shindler, 29, Bartlett, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • Shanqua Patrick, 23, Halls, TN – Prostitution near Church or School
  • Isaiah Williams, 47, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)
  • Uriel Roblero, 23, Memphis, TN – Patronizing Prostitution (B Felony)

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