The Tennessean: Sex trafficking customer gets 22-year sentence

Stacey Barchenger, sbarchenger@tennessean.com 8:40 a.m. CDT April 24, 2015

He wanted to buy girls "just over 8, not over 16."

That's what Michael Kohlmeyer told a person he thought was a prostitute — actually an undercover Metro police detective — in June 2013.

Kohlmeyer was sentenced Thursday to 22 years in prison for trafficking a person under the age of 15 for a sex act. The case is the first time in Tennessee a customer of sex trafficking has been prosecuted, Assistant District Attorney Antoinette Welch said.

More than 30 victim advocates filled Judge Mark Fishburn's courtroom for Kohlmeyer's sentencing. Most were from End Slavery Tennessee, which works to combat human trafficking, and some came from East Tennessee.

"I think it's important for the court to see there's strong community support and we're not going to tolerate buying our children," Derri Smith, executive director of End Slavery Tennessee, said with tears in her eyes after the sentencing.

Smith said that 94 minors are trafficked each month in the state.

Kohlmeyer has two pending child pornography cases in Gibson County, according to testimony Thursday. When he was arrested in the Nashville case, officials said he was out of jail on bail in a similar case in Humphreys County involving a 15-year-old. He was later convicted in that case.

In his testimony Thursday, Kohlmeyer said he was lonely and bored during his job as a forklift driver in Trenton, Tenn., when he began chatting with a prostitute he found on the website Backpage.com. He said he only talked about hiring young girls for sex and had no intention of physically harming them.

Assistant Public Defender Chaucey Fuller said Kohlmeyer never made specific arrangements to meet with any children nor make any payment.

Metro Police Detective Sheba Cantrell said she was tipped off by the prostitute and took over the conversation. She suggested a 12-year-old girl could be purchased for $2,500 for what Kohlmeyer called a "test-run." Police later recovered more than a thousand pictures of child pornography on Kohlmeyer's cellphone.

Kohlmeyer initially would not directly answer questions when Welch, the prosecutor, asked if he was attracted to children.

Welch began peppering him with questions in an impassioned sequence that Judge Fishburn described as Kohlmeyer being "brow-beaten into submission." Looking at pornographic images taken from Kohlmeyer's phone, Welch — who wore a photograph of her own young children on her necklace — began to cry.

Welch said the conversation between the undercover detective and Kohlmeyer went on for three days. She said based on Kohlmeyer's criminal history, he seemed to be getting worse and was a danger to society.

"He is a predator," she said.

Reach Stacey Barchenger at 615-726-8968 and on Twitter @sbarchenger.