An 18-year veteran with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office — and the sheriff’s cousin — resigned earlier this month after he was seen on video patronizing an illicit massage parlor during an undercover human trafficking investigation, Sheriff Parnell McNamara said.

Stephen Johnson, a deputy who worked security in the McLennan County Courthouse, resigned about two weeks ago after investigators uncovered video in two local massage parlors suspected of human trafficking. McNamara said Johnson, who is the sheriff’s second cousin, is one of 150 to 200 suspects seen on video cameras installed by the massage parlors’ operators.

Johnson has not been arrested as detectives continue to investigate and McNamara said arrest warrants will be issued when the investigation is complete.

“We’ve never had a case like this that was handed out to us,” McNamara said. “I am embarrassed that not only one of our own guys was on the video and I am embarrassed for our family, but he is going to be handled the same way everyone else is.”

The two massage parlors, at 2625 W. Waco Drive and 2509 Washington Ave., were raided in early December after detectives began an undercover human-trafficking investigation. The businesses’ operator, Chun Yang Zhang, 47, of Austin, who was the tenant of both locations, was arrested on a second-degree felony charge of engaging in organized criminal activity for having at least three women engage in acts of prostitution for profit at the businesses.

“In both massage parlors, video cameras were hidden in clocks, so you see faces of people who come in and pay for sex acts,” McNamara said. “We don’t know why the cameras were in there and we are still processing the video, but there are between 150 to 200 men who patronized these businesses.”

According to the search warrants filed for the businesses, detectives said the cameras were set up in the parlors by Zhang and a man known to be her husband. The women working for Zhang told detectives they had to pay Zhang $300 a month to work and live in the parlors and that they were allowed to keep 20 percent of all earnings.

Johnson is the son of former McLennan County District Clerk Joe R. Johnson, who pleaded guilty in October 2005 to misusing funds entrusted to his office.

“It’s terrible that we had this happen, but it did and we are going to face it,” McNamara said. “I am in disbelief and we are working overtime to identify everybody that was patronizing these two massage parlors that had their own set prices for sex acts.”

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