The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced results of a week-long operation to better understand and combat human trafficking in Tennessee.
With the partnership of the Brentwood Police Department, the Clarksville Police Department, and End Slavery Tennessee, TBI Agents embarked on an undercover operation to identify potential victims of trafficking, arrest those seeking to purchase illicit sex, and learn more about the specific nuances of this type of crime. The fact-finding operation will eventually be duplicated in other parts of the state as the TBI works to better equip law enforcement departments to investigate human trafficking and help victims.
Authorities arrested about a dozen men on prostitution-related offenses and also identified several young women who may be victims of human trafficking. One young woman was referred to services provided through End Slavery Tennessee. The men included a pastor, an Army lieutenant, a farmer, and a small business owner.
"This will be an uphill battle, because what we're really doing in Tennessee is changing the conversation about human trafficking," said TBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Margie Quin. "It's like domestic violence or drunk driving decades ago. What was once never discussed in public is now a worthwhile cause. And we're determined to get there with the issue of human trafficking, too."
Earlier this week, Governor 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 will exclusively investigate human trafficking cases and train law enforcement statewide on recognizing and combatting this type of crime. State Representative Charles Sargent and Senator Bill Ketron sponsored the legislation and made this legislation a top priority in the most recent session, which will enable TBI to dedicate resources to this issue for years to come.
"The time is now," said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. "Lives are at stake at this very moment. We will be the agency - and the state - to do everything possible to make a difference."
In recent years, the TBI and Vanderbilt University partnered on in-depth studies to better understand the scope of human trafficking in Tennessee. Both studies are available for review on the TBI's website.
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. Visitwww.ITHasToStop.com for more information.
Among those arrested and cited for various offenses as part of this week's operation in Clarksville:
- Sergio Baltazar, 29, Clarksville
- Devereaux Fields, 24, Clarksville
- Christopher Kendrick, 24, Clarksville
- Devin McLean, 21, Fort Campbell, KY
- Daniel Peters, 29, Clarksville
- Michael Reid, 46, Clarksville
- KeRalos Sanders, 32, Oak Grove, KY
- Stephen Shaw, 56, Paducah, KY
- Paul Wengerd, 47, Paris
- Rodney Wilson, 29, Clarksville
- Mariah Miller, 24, Clarksville
Among those arrested and cited during the operation in Brentwood:
- Cheng Hao Tung, 25*
- Marisa Diane Thomas, 20*
- Kiersten Renee Napodano, 21*
*Hometowns for these individuals were unavailable at the time of this release.