YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – A newly-formed human trafficking task force arrested five suspected “johns” during a solicitation sting this week in Mahoning County.
The Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission (OOCIC) Task Force will work to combat human trafficking in the Mahoning Valley, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene.
The task force’s first arrests Wednesday led to five suspects being charged with solicitation. Police said the following five suspects solicited an undercover officer for sex after responding to an advertisement posted online:
- Michael Infante, 34, Lordstown
- Pedro Sanchez, 22, Boardman
- Jerry Teter, 58, Vienna
- Eric Totten, 33, Brookfield
- David Williams, 44, Youngstown
“We set it up to see what kind of activity we would get in the area and we got a lot. We had well over 45 phone calls attempting to come see a young lady that we had undercover,” said Major Jeff Allen with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office.
According to Allen, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world.
Each year, an estimated 1,078 Ohio children become victims and 3,016 more are at-risk. The number of victims every year nearly doubles.
The most common age in Ohio for children to become victims of trafficking is 13 years old, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.
Even for as underreported as the crime is, Valley officials are working non-stop to try to end it.
“Part of what we’re trying to do, of course, is to get people to understand that human trafficking can exist anywhere,” DeWine said.
In 2012, Governor Kasich, alongside DeWine, formed the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to provide state resources and services for victims, and punish the perpetrators of these crimes.
The Mahoning Valley force is operating under Allen’s direction.
“We were approached by Attorney General Mike DeWine and his office to form a Mahoning Valley Task Force,” he said.
DeWine says this task force was specifically formed to deal with human trafficking in the Valley.
“We have a number of different law enforcement agencies, along with the Organized Crime Commission, which is under the Attorney General’s Office,” DeWine said.
The task force includes representatives from the Austintown Police Department, Liberty Township Police Department, Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Adult Parole Authority and Mahoning County Children’s Services.
“I am pleased with how many area agencies have committed manpower to such an important initiative,” Allen said.
The task force is currently investigating several other cases of human trafficking across the Valley.
The five men that were arrested on Wednesday are set to appear in court next Wednesday in Austintown.