Six men were arrested in a two-day undercover operation in Monroe County, Tennessee, linked to human trafficking, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
The operation was conducted last week after authorities placed decoy advertisements known to be linked to prostitution and commercial sex cases, according to a TBI news release.
The operation was jointly conducted by the TBI’s Human Trafficking Unit, Sweetwater police, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the 10th Judicial District Drug and Violent Crime Task Force. It included the arrests of six men ranging in age from 27 to 50, according to TBI.
Those arrested include Tennessee resident Steven Lawrence Kobylski, 33, of Decatur, who is charged with soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor.
According to the TBI and Monroe County Jail records, five other men are charged with trafficking for a commercial sex act: Anthony Cornelius Baylis, 37, of Harriman; Matthew Jason Cohen, 42, of Maryville; James Stephen Stinnett, 27, of Madisonville; Joshua James Thomas, 32, of Tellico Plains; and Pedro Juan Berenguer Torres, 50, of Powell.
Six East Tennessee men charged in human trafficking probe
Kobylski is being held on $100,000 bond while Baylis is being held without bond. Cohen, Stinnett, Thomas and Torres are each being held on $200,000 bond, jail officials said Wednesday. All six men face a court appearance on May 8, officials said. It was unknown whether any of the men have obtained lawyers yet.
Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Stephen C. Crump said the operation in Monroe County was the third such operation in his four-county district that consists of Bradley, McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.
The operation in Monroe County was a sting in which the suspects were taken into custody at a specific location provided by undercover law enforcement, Crump said.
Although the operation was a sting involving undercover operatives, Crump said sometimes human trafficking victims surface after a law enforcement effort aimed at traffickers. If that happens in the wake of this operation, potential human trafficking victims will be offered help and avenues to rehabilitation, he said.
“Because of our proximity to two of the most heavily traveled interstate interchanges in the country, we are a prime target for trafficking,” Crump said. “The idea is to change lives particularly on the side of folks who may have been victimized in this business and those enslaved in this business.”
(READ MORE: Tim Tebow joins Tennessee Gov. Lee to announce new state anti-human trafficking effort)
Human trafficking “is modern-day slavery” that comes in two different forms, labor trafficking and sex trafficking, according to the TBI.
Labor trafficking is when a person is forced, defrauded or coerced to perform labor under false promises of good pay or a romantic relationship or other “benefits.” Sex trafficking is when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion if the alleged victim is 18 years of age or older. Any minor who performs a commercial sex act is defined under federal and Tennessee law as a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the use of force, fraud or coercion, according to the TBI’s outreach organization, ItHasToStop.
Crump and TBI officials said the operation in Monroe County also had support from “Grow Free TN” and “WillowBend Farms,” which provide services to survivors of human trafficking. More information about trafficking and TBI’s efforts to address it can be found here.
Anyone with a tip or seeking information about human trafficking can call Tennessee’s human trafficking hotline at 1-855-558-6484 or text “BeFree” to 233733.
Contact Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.