First in a series
BELTON — The men and women all entered the rooms with a common purpose — sex — either arriving to pay for it or to get paid for the services they agreed to perform.
The only problem was they were walking into rooms filled with police officers, non-governmental victims’ advocates — and members of the media.
A two-day human sex trafficking operation conducted last week in Temple resulted in the rescue of six women and the arrests of eight men.
Ten people, including two women, were arrested on either prostitution or other charges.
Participating in the sting were the Bell County Sheriff’s Department Special Crimes Unit and officers from the Temple and Arlington police departments. The goal was to uncover trafficking, pimps and prostitution; work to detain the johns and victims who were engaging in sexual acts in exchange for a fee; and to identify and rescue victims of sex trafficking.
At the sting to talk to the six likely victims of human trafficking were representatives of Aware Central Texas, Unbound and Common Thread.
The people arrested came from all walks of life and included two Fort Hood soldiers and one man employed by the Killeen Chamber of Commerce.
Some of them cried and claimed it was their first time to request services from a woman, and those requests varied — as did the prices they were willing to pay for services from a 21-year-old woman they only “knew” through an Internet or cellphone connection. Some made agreements to pay $40 for a “full-service” deal.
Arrested were Aaron Bernard Barraza, Jonathan Allen Burton, Kaiem Keemo DeWalt, Jose Ariel Lopez Medina, Guillermo Elias Martinez, Rex Allen McAdams III, Felipe Rodriguez, Deleon Krisoff Romero, Heather Sullivan and Fredranisha Lynette Fleming.
DeWalt and Romero are both E-4 soldiers stationed at Fort Hood.
Medina worked for the Killeen Chamber of Commerce. He wouldn’t say where he worked or where he came from when asked by officers.
The ages of the men ranged from 19 to 37, Bell County Maj. T.J. Cruz said.
The women, ranging in age from 25 to 40, offered various services for prices that ranged up to $300 per hour and even $700 for an overnight stay. Two of the women were recognized by law enforcement officers from a previous sting in Killeen.
Some women said it was their first time to do it — and later changed their stories to officers at least once, twice or more times.
Some had drugs with them and others were clearly on drugs.
None of the women brought condoms either.
Of those arrested, Fleming was still in the Bell County Jail on Wednesday, held in lieu of a $2,500 bond set for failure to identify as a fugitive with the intent to give false information and on a blue warrant hold. Fleming gave officers a fake form of identification and didn’t tell them she had a felony warrant for her arrest, either.
Although five women weren’t charged with prostitution, a Class B misdemeanor, one woman was.
Sullivan lied to officers and said she was never arrested for any previous offenses. Sullivan had four previous prostitution convictions, which enhanced her charge to a Class A misdemeanor.
Additional charges will be added to those against one person for possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia — Class B misdemeanors.
The remaining people arrested Aug. 15 and Aug. 16 were released on bond.
The inclusion of media
What was entirely different during this joint operation was that five trusted representatives of the media were hand-selected to observe and document what they saw and learned so they could make people aware of the reality of human sex trafficking and what goes into fighting it.
It was an experiment and learning process for all sides.
The media representatives, including one from the Telegram, were included in two meetings prior to the operation, but were held to secrecy. No reporters knew the date of the upcoming operation until three days before it was to begin. The media didn’t know the location of the chosen hotel until an hour before, during a briefing for the operation.
The conclusion — but it’s not over
One part of Wednesday morning’s news conference was hearing from people involved in the sting, like Temple Police Sgt. Michael Bolton, Sheriff Eddy Lange, Aware Central Texas Executive Director Misti Biddick and five reporters who were allowed extra access to understand more about the issues faced by law enforcement.
“It takes a lot to make a success of an operation like this,” Lange said.
Bolton shared his impressions of the operation.
“We’re very fortunate in Bell County to have great working relationships with the other law enforcement entities. Of course, it (the sting) happened in Temple and we have ‘a vested interest’ in this. It worked out well for us, and we hope we made a little bit of an impact,” Bolton said.
Biddick was grateful for the professionalism and opportunity to form the partnership with law enforcement, she said.
“We want to inform the public about the problem in the area and let them know what a partnership looks like between non-profit organizations and law enforcement,” Biddick said.
Providing the basic needs for the men and women they encounter as victims allows them to make a choice about where their lives are going, she also said. As an organization, Aware Central Texas will try to follow the paths of those rescued to see if they need future help.
Lange talked about the purpose of operations like this sting.
“Our purpose here is to go out and save one individual, and that makes it all worthwhile,” Lange said. “Over the course of our operations, we’ve saved a number of individuals and gotten them out of this. With the help of everyone, we hope we can get some to reach out and accept our help.”
Lange’s final message was, “We’ll continue to do operations like this. We hope you don’t end up on this board.”
A future operation will focus on underage solicitation, Lange said.
Future articles in a series will take readers into the ugly, illegal and destructive world of human sex trafficking in Bell County. An intense look will be taken at what local law enforcement agencies face on a daily basis as they try to protect its victims and eradicate it from Central Texas.
The series, which continues Sunday, will focus on what it takes to plan and conduct a sting, the johns and the part they play in perpetuating human sex trafficking, how the women are seen as victims and sometimes criminals, and what a reporter learned from her glimpse into that world.