A pastor resigned from a local church that has taken a vocal role in preventing human trafficking. The resignation came amid a prostitution investigation in December, and the pastor turned himself in to law enforcement on a prostitution charge Thursday.

Edward Ignacio Espinosa, 41, was arrested on a Class B misdemeanor prostitution charge after he paid for sexual acts at a local massage parlor last year, according to an arrest affidavit.

Espinosa was a community outreach pastor at Antioch Community Church when he told his supervisor Dec. 7 he had visited the business in October, Senior Pastor Jimmy Seibert said.

"Once he confessed his sin, he was placed on administrative leave," Seibert said. "We were doing our own investigation about the incident, and he later turned in his resignation to us."

Espinosa was a pastor at Antioch for eight years and passed multiple background checks, Seibert said. He said he is praying for mercy and compassion for Espinosa, and his family will not be turned away by the congregation.

Espinosa's charge stems from a massage parlor targeted by undercover McLennan County Sheriff's Office investigators last year. Hundreds of men engaged in prostitution at two massage parlors in Waco between September and November, prompting investigators to raid the businesses in December.

Investigators found videos of men who paid for sex acts during massages, according to arrest affidavits for the business operator, Chun Yang Zhang, 47, of Austin. She was arrested Dec. 8 on a second-degree felony charge of human trafficking and arrested again Feb. 20, accused of running a third massage business where she forced women to engage in prostitution.

"Even now, it's surreal and I am heartbroken. We love Ed and we love his family," Seibert said.

Espinosa wrote a letter to church leaders asking for forgiveness after his resignation, he said.

“Ed’s conduct was not only inappropriate but directly against our values and policy as a church and as the people of God," he said. "We continue to be committed to helping heal whatever is broken, whether on behalf of the victim or the victimizer, we believe restoration is still possible through Jesus Christ.”

Daniel Henderson, the owner of Uncle Dan's Bar-B-Que & Catering and a former McLennan County Sheriff's Office deputy Stephen Johnson were arrested Wednesday on prostitution charges stemming from the videos found at the massage parlors. Authorities said additional arrests are forthcoming, including possible sexual assault charges based on actions observed in the videos.

Women who were rescued from the human trafficking ring were assisted by UnBound, a nonprofit mission of Antioch Community Church that raises public awareness and provides services to trafficking victims. Church officials said Espinosa had no direct involvement with UnBound.

UnBound director Susan Peters said the organization and church were shaken with Espinosa's arrest. She said the women who were working at the massage parlors were victims of human trafficking and were made to provide "commercial sex" for clients.

"All these women were Asian women who did not speak English, were flown in and brought to different massage parlors, moved every few weeks, because by their statements they believe American men want different women," Peters said. "They don't have access to (immigration) papers, they live on the premises, there are cameras inside, and are watched 24 hours by live feed.

"Everything about their lives are very controlled, so they are not consenting adults who can walk away. This is a criminal activity to harbor human trafficking."

She said UnBound will continue to help law enforcement combat human trafficking crimes.

Espinosa was booked into McLennan County Jail on Thursday afternoon and released on $1,000 bond by Thursday night.

Get Trib headlines sent directly to you, every day.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

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.

Recommended for you

Load comments