Trafficking sting (copy)

McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, seen here before a February 2017 press conference addressing a sex-buying sting, says his office is shifting its attention away from transactional arrests to focus on the people running human trafficking operations. Most arrests for prostitution charges are listed as a Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000, and many first-time offenders get deferred probation, court records show.

After courting publicity for stings that resulted in dozens of Class B misdemeanor prostitution arrests and a handful of human trafficking arrests, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said local detectives are shifting their attention away from sex buyers to focus on the people running human trafficking operations.

“The issue is these despicable pimps and traffickers that are taking advantage of these unfortunate people who are being used for sex,” McNamara said. “We’ve proven that we have this problem and everyone is being aware of it. (Sex buyers) are still a big problem, but we are going to come at this another way to eliminate the demand.”

This summer, for the first time since 2016, the sheriff’s office did not participate in the bi-annual National Johns Suppression Initiative. The nationwide effort focuses on sex buyers, or johns, rather than the prostitutes and has received local and national attention in the last several years.

When it participated, McLennan County consistently ranked in the top 10 among major metropolitan agencies.

“The john suppression effort is a great effort, but they are primarily all misdemeanors,” Chief Deputy David Kilcrease said. “We’ve proven we can fill our books with misdemeanor arrests that are time consuming to do, but the bottom line is that the people who are making money off sex buying, the ones that are facilitating it, the ones that are bringing people to our country to use in sex acts, those are the people that we cannot lose focus on.”

Most of the arrests for prostitution charges are listed as a Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Most people arrested on a Class B misdemeanor prostitution charge with no criminal history can get deferred probation, court records show.

McLennan County detectives used a three-week online sting in the fall of 2014 to target people seeking juveniles for sex and made 20 arrests on felony online solicitation of a minor charges. They have continued to use online stings, including in their johns suppression initiatives.

“When we did our first sting, we had no idea what to expect, so when we arrested 20 people it was shocking,” said Detective Joseph Scaramucci, the department’s lead human trafficking investigator. “Over the last 4 years we’ve continued into every facet of trafficking, every angle we can work to end this in Central Texas.

“What we’ve come to find is human trafficking isn’t always a small, isolated event with a trafficker and two girls. Often times it’s very large-scale, sophisticated, organized crime network that is profiting on the backs of men, women and children.”

Detectives have made hundreds of arrests on various charges in their efforts to combat human trafficking in recent years.

They will be re-focusing their efforts, but the goals remains the same, McNamara said.

“Our main goal is to rescue innocent people who are being trafficked as very unfortunate victims,” McNamara said. “We are going after traffickers because everyone has become aware of it. The johns are creating the demands for these pimps, which is the heart of the issue, so we are going at the heart of the issue in a new way.”

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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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