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McLennan County is located in central Texas and has approximately 263,000 residents. The city of Waco is the county seat, and other noteworthy communities within the county include China Spring and Woodway. Prostitution and sex trafficking activity has been reported in the county for several decades. In 2017 it was reported that the county ranked 4th in the nation for human trafficking cases, many involving the sexual exploitation of children and some involving child sexual abuse materials (CSAM, often called “child pornography in legal codes). For example, in March 2021, the Belton Police Department contacted McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Human Trafficking/ Child Exploitation unit in reference to needing assistance with a case with ties to McLennan County. An investigation revealed that a 57-year-old man had contacted someone and offered to pay money in exchange for having sexual relations with a child. During communication with that person, the suspect sent CSAM. The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office obtained two felony arrest warrants for “Prostitution of a Minor” and “Distribution of Child Pornography” and arrested the man at the place of his employment. The sex trade has also generated numerous related crimes, including drug and weapons offenses and assault and homicide of prostituted women. It also generates complaints to the police by local residents and business owners. For example, in August 2022, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man for solicitation of prostitution after a licensed massage therapist allegedly received obscene messages and reported the incident to local law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Office reported that it has been asking local licensed massage therapists to come forward if they have been solicited for acts of prostitution. This is in response to an increase in the number of LMTs reaching out to police as a result of being solicited for acts of prostitution.
Combating consumer-level demand that drives all sex trafficking has been a priority within the County. For example, in March 2015, law enforcement in McLennan County conducted a three-week online sting that resulted in the arrest of 29 men. Deputies posed as pimps and prostituted women and girls and arrested the men who arranged to meet with them for prostitution. The arrested men were charged with online solicitation, prostitution under 18, and/or conspiracy to commit human trafficking. One of the men arrested was a truck driver from Kentucky who was charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit human trafficking. Detectives said he planned to take minor victims of sex trafficking to Eagle Pass in Maverick County in his 18-wheeler to sell them to other men, then switch them out for other sex trafficking victims on his way back to Waco.
In addition to supporting city-level efforts to reduce prostitution locally, the McClennan County Sheriff’s Department has staged at least two reverse stings from undisclosed locations within the county. In March 2015 and February 2016, operations were conducted that utilized decoy advertisements on websites known for prostitution. The February 2016 operation, however, targeted individuals offering acts of prostitution in addition to sex buyers attempting to purchase sex acts. Following their arrests, all individuals intercepted had their identities publicized in the press.
In July 2017, McLennan County deputies arrested more than 70 men in a series of reverse stings. In January and February of 2018, a county-wide web-based reverse sting in McLennan County resulted in the arrest of 47 men. The sting was part of a “Johns Suppression Initiative” operation. One of the men arrested had requested to have access to sexually abuse a child and drove from San Antonio to meet who he thought was an 11-year-old girl. The names of all arrestees were released to news outlets.
As of 2018, “john school” classes at the Stop Demand School were offered monthly in McLennan County, and expansion to other sites in Texas was planned in 2019. A john school has been operating in Waco since 2008 and has modified its structure and content over time.
In 2018, another shift occurred in how local law enforcement handles prostitution cases by focusing on consumer-level demand, which is the source of the problem of prostitution and sex trafficking. As a result, the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies are now focusing on those who respond to consumer demand by exploiting victims. The shift from prevention to symptom management can be traced to evidence obtained in an investigation in 2017, including recorded video evidence of over 400 men engaging in sex acts for cash at two Waco massage parlors. Only 13 either have been adjudicated or have had prosecution pending on misdemeanor prostitution charges. The seized videos demonstrated the scope of local human trafficking offenses, but the task of identifying 400 men and building misdemeanor cases that could stand up in court is time-consuming and expensive. So, investigators ultimately shifted focus to rescuing victims and going after traffickers.
In the summer of 2018, for the first time since 2016, the sheriff’s office did not participate in the bi-annual National Johns Suppression Initiative. The nationwide effort focuses on sex buyers rather than prostituted people and has received local and national attention for most of this decade. When it participated, McLennan County consistently ranked in the top 10 among major metropolitan agencies. In McLennan County, most of the arrests for prostitution charges are listed as Class B misdemeanors, punishable by up to 180 days in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Most people arrested on a Class B misdemeanor prostitution charge with no criminal history can get deferred probation. A Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Office said,
“The john suppression effort is a great effort, but they are primarily all misdemeanors. We’ve proven we can fill our books with misdemeanor arrests that are time-consuming to do, but the bottom line is that the people who are making money off sex buying, the ones that are facilitating it, the ones that are bringing people to our country to use in sex acts, those are the people that we cannot lose focus on.”
For decades, law enforcement throughout the U.S. had focused on arresting, prosecuting pimps and traffickers, and identifying and rescuing victims. While those approaches are essential to a comprehensive, balanced effort to address the problem, there is no evidence that the supply-side approach alone has a significant impact on prevalence. They are inherently reactive and manage the symptoms but does not address the cause. There is substantial evidence that focusing on demand can reduce the scope of the problem – consequently lowering the economic incentive for sex traffickers and pimps and reducing the number of victims needed to serve the market.
In January 2021, McLennan County deputies arrested a man in an online child prostitution sting and charged him with the prostitution of a minor. According to an arrest affidavit, the suspect responded to an undercover deputy’s online advertisement placed on a website known for human trafficking and prostitution. The deputy offered an adult and a minor to engage in sexual acts in exchange for a fee. The suspect requested both the minor and the adult and agreed to the fee for both persons. Deputies said the suspect initially declined the minor but later changed his mind. When the man showed up at the motel, he was arrested, and his identity was included in press releases. He was later released on a $10,000 bond.
In early May of 2021, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office investigators conducted an online sting operation in which they arrested a local man after he had attempted to solicit sex from a child in exchange for money, according to an email from the sheriff’s office. The man was arrested on two charges of prostitution; a charge for prostitution and a charge for prostitution with a minor. He was released on a bond of $7,000 only a couple of days after his arrest.
Only two days after the May 2021 arrest, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office investigators conducted online prostitution of a minor sting, where officers arrested a man on charges of prostitution. The offender had responded to an ad on a website known for human trafficking, believing he was communicating with a woman engaging in prostitution. In addition, the sex buyer had also communicated with an undercover officer pretending to be a 16-year-old girl offering sexual acts. The sex buyer had agreed on a price, a time, and a place to engage in sexual acts with the woman and the girl, resulting in his arrest under a second-degree felony charge of prostitution of a minor.
Other Sex Buyer Arrests:
Not all sex buyer arrests are the result of sting operations using police decoys. Some are the product of investigations of alleged offenses against real victims. For example, in April 2021, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office officials arrested a man after he tried to solicit sex and sexually explicit images from two underage girls and sent child pornography to their mother, an arrest affidavit stated. The man was arrested on a second-degree felony charge of prostitution of a minor and a second-degree felony charge of possession of child pornography. The children’s mother reported that the man, who she had a relationship with in 2015, started sending her messages on Facebook with sexually explicit requests involving her and her daughters. He sent a message trying to solicit oral sex from one of the daughters in exchange for money, then sent a message containing child sexual abuse materials, the affidavit stated. The mother reported the first incidents to the Belton Police Department, and the message containing child pornography triggered a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children cyber tip that identified the man as the person who sent the image, according to the document.
Loss of Employment:
Loss of employment is another consequence of buying sex that has occurred within the county. For example, in March 2015, a law enforcement officer was arrested and charged with “soliciting a prostitute under the age of 18,” a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. According to an affidavit, the man had agreed to who he believed was a 17-year-old girl “for sexual intercourse for $100.” The officer was terminated from his position as a deputy constable for McLennan County after one week on unpaid administrative leave after his arrest. The 51-year-old man had been an officer for “many years,” having worked as an officer for the Waco Police Department from October 1988 to October 2009, when he then became a deputy constable.
- McLennan County Sheriff’s Department
Web-Based Reverse Stings, Identity Disclosure:
- “Details, Names Released in Online Sex Sting,” Waco Tribune-Herald, March 10 2015.
- “Sheriff’s Deputies Arrest 29 in Online Trafficking Sting,” Waco Tribune-Herald, March 10 2015.
- “Deputy Constable Fired in Wake of Prostitution Arrest,” Waco Tribune-Herald, March 11 2015.
- “29 Men, Including Soldier and Constable, Arrested in Central Texas Prostitution Sting,” San Antonio Express-News, March 12 2015.
- “Sheriff’s Officials Arrest 45 in Online Prostitution Sting,” Waco Tribune-Herald, June 30 2015.
- “Truck Driver Sentenced to Federal Prison for Agreeing to Transport Women for Prostitution,” States News Service, August 26 2015.
- “Trucker Sentenced in Prostitution Sting,” Waco Tribune-Herald, August 26 2015.
- “Truck Driver Arrested in Waco Sentenced for Prostitution Scheme,” Waco Tribune-Herald, November 2 2015.
- https://wacotrib.com/details-names-released-in-online-sex-sting (2015)
- “School Coach, Semipro Umpire among 46 Arrested in Online Prostitution Sting,” Waco Tribune-Herald, February 2 2016.
- “Sheriff’s Officials Arrest 46 in Undercover Sting,” ABC/KXXV-TV 25, February 2 2016.
- “Sting Uncovers Human Trafficking Ring,” Temple Daily Telegram, February 2 2016.
- “46 Arrests Made in Texas Prostitution Ring; High School Teacher Included in Arrests,” ABC/KSAT-TV 12, February 3 2016.
- “Nearly 50 Suspects, Including Teacher and Umpire, Arrested in Central Texas Prostitution Sting,” San Antonio Express-News, February 3 2016.
- https://www.mysanantonio.com/61-arrests-made-in-biggest-sex-trafficking-bust (2016)
- https://www.centexproud.com/over-70-arrested-in-prostitution-sting/ (2017)
- http://www.kplctv.com/sheriff-man-arrested-in-prostitution-sting-wanted-to-have-sex-with-child (2018)
- https://www.wacotrib.com/local-prostitution-cases-sitting-idle-months-after-arrests (2018)
- https://www.wacotrib.com/sheriff-s-office-shifting-focus-of-anti-human-trafficking-efforts (2019)
- https://www.wacotrib.com/officials-passing-on-prostitution-cases-to-pursue-traffickers (2019)
- https://www.kcentv.com/18-arrested-in-mclennan-county-for-sexual-exploitation-of-children-human-trafficking (2020)
- https://www.kwtx.com/deputies-snare-man-in-online-central-texas-child-prostitution-sting/ (2021)
- https://wacotrib.com/mcgregor-man-arrested-on-child-prostitution-child-pornography-charges (2021)
- The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Investigators Conducted Online Sting Operation (2021)
- May 6th Online Prostitution of a Minor Sting by The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office (2021)
- https://wacotrib.com/mart-man-arrested-on-prostitution-of-a-minor-charge-in-sting (2021)
- https://wacotrib.com/waco-man-arrested-in-online-sex-sting-targeting-human-trafficking (2021)
- https://www.fox44news.com/watch-live-mclennan-co-sheriff-announces-human-trafficking-sting/ (2022)
- https://wacotrib.com/crime-and-courts/mclennan-county-grand-jury-indictments (2023)
Arrest of Sex Buyer, Identity Disclosure:
Sex Buyer Fired or Resigned Due to Arrest:
- https://wacotrib.com/deputy-constable-fired-in-wake-of-prostitution-arrest (2015)
- https://www.mysanantonio.com/Report-Central-Texas-officer-arrested-on-child (2015)
Background on Local Prostitution, Sex Trafficking, CSAM, Violence, Related Crimes:
- “Trafficking Arrests Likely the First in McLennan County,” Waco Tribune-Herald, June 23 2013.
- “New Homeland Security Office to Help McLennan County Fight Human Trafficking,” Waco Tribune-Herald, November 21 2015.
- https://abovethelaw.com/human-trafficking-charges (2015)
- https://www.mysanantonio.com/61-arrests-made-in-biggest-sex-trafficking-bust (2016)
- https://www.dallasnews.com/fort-worth-pair-arrested-in-waco-prostitution-sting/ (2017)
- https://wacotrib.com/mclennan-county-ranks-4th-in-national-human-trafficking-initiative (2017)
- https://wacotrib.com/grand-jury-indicts-women-in-cases-of-trafficking-murder-by-fire (2018)
- https://www.kwtx.com/two-charged-in-human-trafficking-investigation-involving-area-teenager (2021)
- https://www.kxxv.com/57-year-old-man-arrested-for-prostitution-of-minor-distribution-of-child-pornography (2021)
- https://www.kxxv.com/hmclennan-county-sheriffs-office-arrests-austin-man-for-solicitation-of-prostitution (2022)
- https://newslanes.com/dna-database-links-retired-waco-man-to-murders-of-sex-workers-dating-back-30-years/ (2022)
- https://www.kcentv.com/mclennan-county-sheriffs-office-arrest-men-suspected-of-human-trafficking (2022)
- https://www.kcentv.com/man-charged-human-trafficking-mclennan-county (2022)