Two church pastors were arrested along with 30 other men and women in Tennessee last Friday as authorities intensified their campaign against human trafficking and prostitution.
Jason Kennedy of the Grace Baptist Church in Karns, and Zuben Parakh of Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge answered to an online ad for people seeking sex with underage prostitutes.
A police report said Kennedy agreed to pay $100 for two partners, one of them a 15-year-old girl. The website link for negotiation was Backpage.com, in which undercover cops also posted sex offer purposely to trap those patronizing prostitution.
Kennedy went to the agreed meeting place where he was accosted while about to take off his clothes. After the news of his arrest had broken out his church fired him as children's minister.
"He did it, but it's like a tsunami that can cover a whole island. His tsunami had come across our whole church," Senior Pastor Rev. Ron Stewart said, adding that looking into it closely Kennedy's actions were part of his life, so these were outside of the church.
Parakh, on the other hand, is a "creative pastor" and wanted to have sex with an underage prostitute. His church has not issued a statement yet of his arrest. Both were charged with patronizing prostitution and trafficking.
Kennedy, 46, has been children's minister for over two years. The two will be brought in for an inquest on May 31.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said arrested were five suspected prostitutes and their customers who were mostly professionals. Operatives from Knoxville Police Department joined the operation.
"We are watching and we are working together to stop anyone from trying to buy or sell a child for sex," Gwyn said.
A member of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking said they were appalled by the report of the arrest because they thought there was no such activity in their community.
"This crime is grossly protected by stereotypes that tell us it happens to certain people and certain places. We never thought it is happening right here in our community," Kate Trudel said.