Lebanon Democrat: Two Lebanon residents were among the 41 people arrested Friday in a three-day human trafficking operation by special agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and partner agencies.
Lebanon residents Pradep Patel, 28, and Angelo Sims, 37, were both arrested and charged with patronizing prostitution.
In total, 34 men, six women and one juvenile were arrested. Those arrested in the operation include a high school teacher, a truck driver, a student, a state IT specialist and Gary Rashad Canty, a former Vanderbilt University football player who still attends Vanderbilt as a student.
Vanderbilt University released a statement Friday afternoon that said the college would comply with the investigation in any way necessary. Canty, 20, is from Riverdale, Ga., and is charged with patronizing prostitution.
The Nashville anti-trafficking operation, called Operation Someone Like Me, is the sixth of its kind in the state between TBI and partner agencies, and it aims to help identify, investigate and prosecute trafficking, and rescue victims.
TBI special agents and intelligence analysts conducted the undercover operation to identify potential victims of trafficking and arrest those seeking to purchase illicit sex from a juvenile.
Agents worked with worked with detectives with the Metro Nashville Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI and the nonprofit End Slavery Tennessee.
During the operation, undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com and 485 men responded to those ads posted.
Those ads received more than 5,300 responses through texts or phone calls.
In some ads, undercover agents posed as juvenile girls. A total of 18 men responded and paid to have sex with an underage female.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said.
“This is all demand-driven. These men paying for sex with children in our state are only continuing to victimize girls and women. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and we will pursue these operations in small towns and big cities for as long as it takes.”
“Even with as many of these operations that we have conducted across the state, it’s still shocking that half of the men responding to these ads wanted to pay to have sex with a minor,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Margie Quin. “We’re working toward helping victims of trafficking, and taking these predators off the streets.”
The Davidson County District Attorney’s office will review each case to determine whether additional charges are warranted.
With the assistance of the nonprofit agency End Slavery Tennessee, the undercover operation also identified potential victims of trafficking.
The women arrested were each offered services, including housing, counseling and addiction treatment. One woman took advantage of those services. She left the operation and was immediately placed in a safe house.
Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation into law giving TBI original jurisdiction over investigations of human trafficking.
Additionally, the state legislature approved funding for four special agents, who work exclusively to investigate human trafficking cases and train law enforcement statewide on recognizing and combating this type of crime.
These four special agents, who have now completed their sixth operation across the state, have arrested or cited 143 individuals during that time.
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell visited Operation Someone Like Me and was able to witness some of the transactions.
“To those scouring the web or apps in the search for sex with our state’s children, let me say this: Be warned,” Harwell said. “This is an agency, a movement, a state that is gaining momentum in its effort to insist it ends right here, right now.
Last year, as part of its commitment to address this issue, the TBI unveiled a public awareness campaign, entitled “IT Has To Stop,” which includes online resources, public service announcements, and contact information for nonprofits who work with survivors of human trafficking. Visit ITHasToStop.com for more information.