Columbiana County, OH
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Columbiana County, Ohio has a population of approximately 101,000 and its government seat is the city of Lisbon. It is located on the state’s border with Pennsylvania, about 20 miles south of Youngstown and 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Other cities within the county include East Palestine, Salem, and Hanoverton. Prostitution and sex trafficking, and a wide range of associated crimes, are well documented locally and in the region. For example, in 2012, a Columbiana County woman was arrested for prostitution by Sebring police. She was charged with possessing criminal tools, a first-degree misdemeanor, and soliciting for prostitution, a third-degree misdemeanor, after she allegedly arranged a “sex for hire” situation with an undercover police officer at the Oak Ridge Motel. The arrest was the result of the Alliance Police Department’s continuing investigation into the area’s sex trade being funneled through the website Backpage. The woman was released pending her court appearance in Sebring Court No. 3, and if convicted, faced up to six months in jail and $1,000 on the new charges. In December 2016, a jury indicted a prostituted East Palestine woman and her pimp on drug charges. The woman was arrested in October after agreeing to partake in sexual services via text message with an undercover police officer. Police said a crack pipe, crack cocaine, and other drug paraphernalia items were found in the hotel where she agreed to meet the officer for paid sex. The East Palestine Police Department (EPPD) has also assisted other agencies in conducting human trafficking investigations in the area.
Among the tactics used to address such problems are those targeting consumers of commercial sex, including the arrest and identity disclosure of sex buyers. For example, in May 2021, a man was arrested on felony charges for attempting to solicit prostitution in the East Palestine area, including compelling prostitution, a third-degree felony, and possessing criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony. According to a court affidavit provided by the New Waterford Police Chief, the suspect had a past criminal record which included procuring prostitution and public indecency, and had been known to travel to East Palestine for employment. On this occasion, he allegedly answered an advertisement known to be used by prostituted persons and drove to East Palestine seeking sex with two 16-year-old foster home runaways. He brought the phone he used to set up the illegal activity and a GPS device to find the location. He reportedly offered $80 and the purchase of groceries in exchange for sexual activities with the girls. A May 20 preliminary hearing was set for the offender in county Municipal Court. His bond was set at $15,000 cash or surety and he was ordered to have no contact with minors. He was the second man that month arrested for similar allegations, and was charged with compelling prostitution, a third-degree felony, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, a fourth-degree felony, and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony. The man allegedly intended to purchase from a girl’s mother access to sexually abuse her 14-year-old daughter, offering $800 but agreeing on the price of $1,000 before traveling to East Palestine.
In May 2020, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Trumbull County Sheriff Paul Monroe announced that eight men were arrested following a recent human trafficking operation, including a Columbiana County man. With the help of various law enforcement agencies, the eight men were arrested during a one-day sting targeting individuals seeking to buy sex via the internet. In July 2021, a man was brought before the grand jury on charges of compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning, and possession of criminal tool. He had allegedly solicited a sexual act with a 15-year-old girl in exchange for $150, driving to East Palestine, where he parked a vehicle and walked to the meeting location and was arrested. The man had traveled to East Palestine after arranging a meeting for sexual activity in exchange for money in answer to an ad posted online by a Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force agent. Also in July 2021, a man who traveled from Painesville to Salem for paid sex faced law enforcement officers instead of the arranged date he expected. Misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution, possession of criminal tools, and advertising massage services were filed against a man by an agent with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force. The task force, through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, has been conducting undercover operations in a demand reduction effort to reduce the sex industry in Ohio. Salem Police personnel responded to the municipal lot at Pershing and South Lundy where an arranged meeting was to take place between the suspect and his date, who turned out to be a task force agent. The suspect had conversed with the undercover task force agent by text earlier in the day. Police assisted the agent in making contact with the man for a suspected sex offense. He was detained, consented to a search of his vehicle, and was taken to the police department. The task force agent issued summons for the man to appear in Columbiana County Municipal Court for the offenses. His cell phone was confiscated as the alleged criminal tool and he was released with the summons.
In February 2022, a Youngstown man pleaded not guilty to charges filed after an undercover sex sting that resulted in his arrest in Columbiana County. The man was arrested along North Sumner Street in East Palestine by members of the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force. According to a complaint filed in court, the man answered an ad on a website used by escorts offering sex for hire and offered to pay $180 for unprotected sex. When the man appeared at the pre-arranged location, investigators say he had $200 and the phone allegedly used to set up the meeting. The suspect was charged with engaging in prostitution and possessing criminal tools.
In March 2022, a Valley plastic surgeon was arrested after being caught up in a sting by the Valley’s Human Trafficking Task Force. The man had an office in Canfield, and was arrested in Columbiana County. Investigators say he responded to an advertisement placed on social media soliciting sex, but instead of meeting a prostituted woman, he was confronted by law enforcement. In court the man pleaded not guilty to engaging in prostitution and to possession of criminal tools. A second man was also arrested and pleaded not guilty.
In January, 2023, a man charged with engaging in prostitution, disorderly conduct, and possession of criminal tools was sentenced in Columbiana County Municipal Court to 60 days in jail (suspended), a fine of $750, two years of probation, and was ordered to complete 40 hours community service, and complete an anti-prostitution class (e.g., “john school”). In March, 2023, reporting on the case dispositions of several of the sex buyers arrested in a reverse sting in East Palestine described the john school as a “12-hour education course.”
In some cases, arrested sex buyers have been ordered by the county to forfeit the money they had agreed to pay the decoy prostituted women. For example, in March, 2023, a man was fined $750 and given a suspended 30-day jail term for engaging in prostitution and possessing criminal tools for soliciting sexual activity in exchange for $180 with an undercover agent posing as two adult females. He had arrived on Jan. 6 in East Palestine for the meeting, and was arrested. He was later ordered by the Columbiana County Municipal Court to forfeit $200 to the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and was permitted to buy out 40 hours community service. Also in March, 2023, a man was fined $750 and sentenced to seven days in jail for engaging in prostitution and possessing criminal tools for answering an ad placed on a known prostitution website by an undercover agent and arranging to have sex with a woman in exchange for $140. The man traveling July 8, 2022 to East Palestine for the meeting, and was arrested. He was ordered by the Columbiana County Municipal Court to forfeit the $140 to the East Palestine Police Department.
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred in the county. For example, in November 2021, the head of Mercer County’s Drug Task Force was suspended indefinitely after he was charged in Columbiana County with engaging in prostitution. The man, who was also the fire chief of the West Salem Township Volunteer Fire Department, pleaded guilty in Columbiana Municipal Court. According to an affidavit prepared by an agent with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, an ad was posted on a known prostitution website that described a drug dependent woman offering sex for hire. The man responded to the ad and requested to have sex with the woman in exchange for money, saying he “was into bestiality” and wanted to bring a dog to have sex with the woman before he had sex with her. The man also said he was OK with the woman being high on drugs during sex. The man was carrying $300 when he arrived at the designated meeting location, where agents from the human trafficking task force took him into custody. A spokesperson from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Press Office said that the man was immediately put on leave and the administrative process to terminate his employment had been launched. In December 2021, the Mahoning County Human Trafficking Task Force arrested a city council member in East Palestine, who had responded to an ad for an adult female offering sex for hire on a known escort website. The man was charged with engaging in prostitution and possessing criminal tools. The sex buyer resigned from his council position with the city. He also had to pay a $1400 dollar fine, do 50 hours of community service within seven months, and was placed on probation for the following two years.
- Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office
- Columbiana County Prosecutor’s Office
- East Palestine Police Department
- Salem Police Department
- Ohio Investigative Unit
- Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force
Arrest of Sex Buyers, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.reviewonline.com/news/police-courts/2021/07/in-the-courts-113 (2021)
- https://www.morningjournalnews.com/man-facing-charges-for-soliciting-prostitution (2021)
- https://www.morningjournalnews.com/news/court-news/2021/07/the-courts (2021)
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.mahoningmatters.com/20-arrested-in-mahoning-county-child-sex-sting-this-weekend (2021)
- https://www.wkbn.com/mercer-co-drug-task-force-coordinator-arrested-in-sex-sting (2021)
- https://www.sharonherald.com/news/drug-task-force-chief-suspended-after-prostitution-charges (2021)
- https://www.salemnews.net/police-and-court-reports/municipal-court (2021)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/man-arrested-in-salem-for-soliciting-prostitution (2021)
- https://www.morningjournalnews.com/painesville-man-arrested-on-sex-charges (2021)
- https://www.morningjournalnews.com/news/court-news/the-courts (2021)
- https://www.wtrf.com/weirton/weirton-man-arrested-in-undercover-prostitution-sting (2022)
- https://www.weirtondailytimes.com/weirton-man-among-those-arrested-in-undercover-sting-operation (2022)
- https://www.wfmj.com/youngstown-man-arrested-in-human-trafficking-sting (2022)
- https://www.wytv.com/valley-plastic-surgeon-newton-falls-man-picked-up-in-sex-sting (2022)
- https://www.wfmj.com/boardman-man-arrested-in-east-palestine-prostitution-sting (2022)
- https://www.wkbn.com/5-charged-in-columbiana-county-sex-bust/ (2023)
- https://www.wfmj.com/virginia-man-arrested-during-underage-prostitution-sting-in-east-palestine (2023)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/columbiana-county-court-news-68/ (2023)
- https://www.salemnews.net/municipal-court-1198/ (2023)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/columbiana-county-grand-jury-414/ (2023)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/columbiana-county-municipal-721/ (2023)
- https://www.salemnews.net/municipal-court-1204/ (2023)
- https://www.morningjournalnews.com/courts-266/ (2023)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/columbiana-county-municipal-727/ (2023)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/columbiana-county-municipal-728/ (2023)
Loss of Employment, Identity Disclosure:
- https://www.wfmj.com/mercer-drug-task-force-chief-fire-chief-arrested-in-columbiana-co-sex-sting (2021)
- https://www.sharonherald.com/news/drug-task-force-chief-suspended-after-prostitution-charges (2021)
- https://www.wfmj.com/east-palestine-councilman-busted-in-undercover-sex-sting (2021)
Community Service, John School:
- https://www.salemnews.net/police-and-court-reports/municipal-court (2022)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/police-courts/columbiana-county-municipal (2023)
Forfeiture of Prostitution Money:
Background on Prostitution in the Area:
- https://www.the-review.com/20120306/NEWS (2012)
- https://www.mytownneo.com/20141203/NEWS/ (2014)
- https://www.newarkadvocate.com/opiate-epidemic-fuels-prostitution-rural-ohio (2015)
- https://www.salemnews.net/woman-who-traveled-to-salem-for-alleged-prostitution-charged (2021)
Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:
- https://www.statesmanjournal.com/salem-man-arrested-sex-trafficking-fbi-sting-prison (2018)
- https://www.reviewonline.com/columbiana-county-man-arrested-for-human-trafficking (2020)
- https://www.cleveland19.com/man-accused-human-trafficking-woman-her-underage-daughter (2021)
- https://www.mahoningmatters.com/columbiana-county-recent-spike-in-sex-cases-many-involving-children (2021)
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