sex sting

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, left, and Detective Joseph Scaramucci, center, discuss the 47 men arrested during the department's effort in the 15th National Johns Suppression Initiative. Detectives arrested 47 men this winter by conducting undercover stings to help in eliminating human trafficking.

For the fourth time in two years, McLennan County Sheriff’s Office investigators ranked in the top 10 agencies in the nation to arrest sex buyers, or “johns,” during the National Johns Suppression Initiative.

Detectives participated in the 15th annual national human-trafficking suppression effort from Jan. 7 to Feb. 4, arresting a total of 47 Johns. More than 30 agencies in 16 states participated in the operation.

“People like this are preying on young people and victims in our area,” Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. “We want to put forth our best effort to stop human trafficking and stop pimps from taking advantage of women, young girls and boys who don’t deserve that.”

Detectives posed as women advertising sex for a fee through online websites. Detective Joseph Scaramucci, the department’s full-time human trafficking investigator, said deputies’ involvement in their fourth national initiative shed light on just how big of a problem the sex-trafficking trade is, both locally and across the world.

“Human trafficking, prostitution and sex buyers are still a problem here, and it’s a problem worldwide,” Scaramucci said. “We need to fight it as hard as we can because these are human lives. These ladies are someone’s child, sister, mother, friend. Their life is no less deserving than that of anyone else.”

Scaramucci and Detective Derek Russell conducted four weeks of undercover stings. In 2017, the department made a total of 45 human trafficking arrests, including aggravated promotion of prostitution, engaging in organized criminal activity and online solicitation of a minor, among others.

“People think of human trafficking as consensual, with victims having a choice in the act. I would say, in my experience, roughly 8 of 10 women are being trafficked and forced into it,” Scaramucci said. “These women are engaging in non-consensual sex on average between 10 and 15 times a day.

“If a college student was being raped 10 times a day, most people would view this as an atrocity. Because these victims are forced or coerced into it, we, as a society, tend to blame them. It’s simply unacceptable, and the men that are engaging in sex buying are committing nothing less than rape.”

Parnell said prostitution stings and other human-trafficking investigations will continue to be conducted by local authorities.

“It makes me feel proud of our guys for the effort they are putting forth and taking these low-life criminals off the streets,” the sheriff said. “With all of this, human trafficking goes along with it. Any way you look at it, it is a sad situation.”

Notable arrests

Waco Police Department Officer Willy Rafael Lopez, 35, of Waco, was arrested Jan. 15 after Lopez, a Street Crimes Unit officer, allegedly agreed to meet with an undercover investigator for sex at a local motel. Lopez was arrested at a local fast-food restaurant when he tried to conduct counter-surveillance in an attempt to locate law enforcement.

Lopez was placed on administrative leave immediately following his arrest, Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt said. In search warrants released a week after his arrest, investigators alleged Lopez engaged in sex with another prostitute in previous months, including an encounter where he recorded sex with a prostitute on his cellphone in his home.

He was arrested again on Feb. 8 on a felony invasive recording charge for the secret recording allegation.

Rosebud-Lott Independent School District teacher Jared James was arrested on Jan. 12 after he answered an online advertisement seeking to meet a prostitute for sex. James arrived at a Waco motel to meet the woman to have sex for a fee, an arrest affidavit states.

Rosebud-Lott ISD Superintendent Steve Brownlee said James started teaching in August 2016 and currently teaches seventh- and eighth-grade students in math. He remains employed with the school district, Brownlee said.

Crescendo Resendez-Galicia, 44, of Port O’Connor, was arrested Jan. 12 on a second-degree felony charge of criminal conspiracy for the offense of human trafficking. Investigators alleged Resendez-Galicia spoke with undercover detectives and requested to meet a prostitute, who would arrange a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old girl for a fee, according to an arrest affidavit.

National initiative

Since the beginning of the National Johns Suppression Initiative, started by Cook County Illinois Sheriff’s Office in 2011, more than 8,200 sex buyers have been arrested during national efforts. This year, authorities said 12 adult and three juvenile victims were rescued from human-trafficking operations and authorities collected at least $755,490 in possible fines.

In the 2018 operation, more than 638 sex buyers were arrested with 18 charged with trafficking-related offenses.

Agencies participating in the 15th annual operation included; Harris County Texas Sheriff’s Office with 103 sex buyer arrests; Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office with 66 sex buyer arrests; Houston Police Department with 64 sex buyer arrests; New York Police Department with 62 sex buyer arrests; Cook County Illinois Sheriff’s Office with 57 sex buyers arrest; and Tuscaloosa Alabama Police Department with 47 sex buyer arrests; among others.

Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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