Mahoning County, OH

Tactics Used

Auto Seizure
Buyer Arrests
Community Service
Employment Loss
Identity Disclosure
IT Based Tactics
John School
License Suspension
Neighborhood Action
Public Education
Reverse Stings
SOAP Orders
Web Stings

Mahoning County is located southeast of Cleveland, Ohio near the Pennsylvania border, and is crossed by Interstates 80 and 76. Mahoning County has a population of approximately 230,000. For several decades the area has been economically distressed, faring poorly in response to economic shifts and the reduction in local manufacturing. The county contains unincorporated areas, small towns, and cities including Austintown, Blue Ash, Lisbon, Youngstown, and Warren. Prostitution and child sex trafficking are well-documented problems in the county. Recent examples include an operation conducted in April 2018, in which a man was arraigned in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on human trafficking and compelling prostitution charges. Also in April 2018, a Mahoning County grand jury indicted a Lisbon man arrested earlier that month after he thought he was meeting an underage boy for sex. His arrest was the result of a sting operation; the suspect arranged a meeting in Austintown with a law-enforcement officer he believed was a 12-year-old boy, and was arrested and later indicted on three counts of importuning, three counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, compelling prostitution, attempted rape, and possessing criminal tools with a forfeiture specification. In October 2018, police announced that more than 100 charges had been filed against five people in connection with an alleged sex trafficking ring in Mahoning County.

To address local problems with sex trafficking and citizens’ complaints of a rise in prostitution activity in the area, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office (as well as police departments in Youngstown, Warren, and Austintown) began conducting street-level reverse stings in the early 1980s that have been continued periodically. Police have routinely conducted such operations, using one or more undercover female officers as decoys. After 2010, there was increasing use of Internet-based reverse sting operations. The names and other identifying information about arrested sex buyers have often been released to the local media.

In November 2017, ten men were charged after agents with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Warren Police Department, and other agencies posed as prostituted people on social media, chatted with potential sex buyers, and invited them to a Warren motel. There were a large number of responses from men who arranged meetings for sex and were immediately taken into custody when they arrived at the motel. All were booked into the Trumbull County jail and released. The identities of the men arrested were publicly released.

On April 18, 2018, six men allegedly seeking sex (as well as two pimps) were arrested in a reverse sting conducted by the Warren Police Department, agents with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, and other agencies. The web-based sting involved individuals seeking to buy sex through the use of an ad posted on a social media website. Investigators participated in text conversations with potential sex buyers, some of whom were sexually explicit in asking for sex from the agent. Men in those conversations were directed to meet at a prearranged location in the city, where they were arrested, interviewed, taken to the Trumbull County Jail, and charged with soliciting prostitution and possessing criminal tools (the cellphones used to make the phone calls or texts).

In May 2018, ten men were arrested on sex-related charges in an operation called “Pedo-Cure,” according to the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office said the sting targeted those who try to pick up underage boys and girls online. These individuals were looking for children as young as 12 years old. One of the men arrested was a registered sex offender for past CSAM (child sexual abuse materials – aka child pornography) charges. Another was on probation and had a prior sexual offense. Investigators said the suspects used computer and cell phone technology to meet their victims, gaining their trust over time, and then eventually luring the children into meeting with them in person. The suspects made arrangements to meet the victims in Canfield Township. Agencies involved in the sting included the Sheriff’s Office, Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and Ohio State Highway Patrol, as well as the local human trafficking task force and other departments.

In October 2018, a grand jury issued a 104-count indictment on human trafficking and prostitution charges for offenses committed in Mahoning County, and three of the four defendants were in custody in the Mahoning County Jail. The charges included compelling prostitution, promoting prostitution, obstruction of justice, trafficking in persons, rape, and child sexual abuse material (child pornography).

In May 2019, a web-based reverse sting was conducted that focused on people seeking to sexually exploit children. Sixteen men were arrested in the Youngstown area. The operation was conducted by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force. A similar operation in July 2021 resulted in the arrest of 20 men.

In August 2021, the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, conducted a two-month-long operation called “Operation Full Court Press” that resulted in the arrest of 34 people seeking sexual activity with children online. Several officers posed as minors online to talk with potential threats. Fourteen suspects were arrested in Columbiana County and 20 were arrested throughout Mahoning County. The men’s names, ages, and mugshots were released to the press, along with their occupations, which included factory worker, computer tech, security officer, electrician, truck driver, engineer, customer service, pipefitter, butcher, business owner, and salesman. Arrestees were booked into the Mahoning County Jail on a variety of charges, including unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning, possession of criminal tools, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, compelling prostitution, engaging in prostitution, procuring, and soliciting.

In April 2022, five sex buyers were caught in a weekend sting conducted by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Taskforce. The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department said the men had responded to online ads soliciting prostitution. All of them were charged with engaging in prostitution and possessing criminal tools. One of the men arrested was a former New Middletown police officer.

In August 2022, nine men were indicted after their arrests the prior August. They were accused of answering an advertisement on websites and trying to arrange to have sex with minors. The Mahoning County Sheriff said at the time that the message the sting intended to send was: “Since they’re not going away, we (law enforcement) are not going away.” They were among 17 people arrested from as near as Youngstown, Niles, and Struthers and two truck drivers from Louisiana and New Jersey. Many of the charges were felonies with some carrying a penalty of up to three years in prison if convicted. Most of the nine are expected to be arraigned in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in the subsequent weeks. The charges for the nine indicted men included compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor with a gun specification, possessing criminal tools, engaging in prostitution; attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and disseminating matters harmful to juveniles.

Key Partners

  • Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office
  • Bureau of Criminal Investigation
  • Ohio State Highway Patrol
  • Warren Police Department
  • Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force

Key Sources

Anti-Trafficking Investigation Resulting in Sex Buyer Arrest:

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type County
Population 228614
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