Mahoning County, OH

Tactics Used

Reverse stings
Auto seizure
Community service
Public education
Neighborhood action
SOAP orders
John school
Web stings
License suspension

Mahoning County is located southeast of Cleveland, OH near the Pennsylvania border, and is crossed by Interstates 80 and 76. 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 Youngstown and Warren.  Prostitution and child sex trafficking are well-documented problems in the county. Recent examples include an operation conducted in April 2018 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 arrested 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 form the early 1980s and have continued to the present. Police routinely conduct such operations, using one or more undercover female officers as decoys. After 2010, there has been increasing use of Internet-based reverse  sting operations. The names and other identifying information about arrested sex buyers are often 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 prostitutes on social media, “chatted” with potential customers and invited them to a Warren motel. There was 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 use of an ad posted on a social media website. Investigators participated in text conversations, some 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 and 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 their 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 those men arrested was a registered sex offender for past 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-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 led to the arrests.

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 John Arrest:

Street-Level and Web-Based Reverse Stings and Shaming:

Sex Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation in the Area:

Background on Prostitution in the Area:

State Ohio
Type County
Population 232000
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