HOUSTON — More than 250 sex buyers and traffickers have been arrested in the Houston area during a monthlong sting operation, authorities said Friday.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the arrests by his agency and Houston police accounted for about 25 percent of more than 1,000 arrests made by a coalition of 37 law enforcement agencies in 17 states. The nationwide crackdown on sex trafficking is coordinated by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois and known as the National Johns Suppression Initiative.
In Houston, eight hotel operators cooperated with law enforcement agencies in the operation from June 28 through July 31 that involved authorities placing ads on online sites known to attract people interested in buying sex.
“They sat back and waited for the folks to ring,” Gonzalez said. “When the caller said they wanted to meet in person so they could pay for sex, our undercover deputies and officers obliged. In hotel rooms 161 sexual predators offered our deputies and officers money for sex, and that’s when they were arrested.”
Another 88 sex buyers and nine people identified as sex traffickers were arrested by Houston police.
The sheriff said those arrested were business professionals and a suburban Houston church pastor. They also included a man in possession of 60 grams of the opioid Hydrocodone, a man who already had been arrested in January for prostitution, a convicted sex offender and two suspects with handguns in their vehicles.
“Our aim is for Harris County and Houston to shed the dubious distinction as America’s sex trafficking capital.” Gonzalez said. “By focusing our efforts on sex buyers who are seeking to take advantage of sex trafficking victims, we are putting these predators on notice that our community won’t tolerate their behavior.”
Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Thomas Dart earlier this month announced the arrests of 140 people in his county under the national initiative, the 14th his department has coordinated since 2011. Seattle had 160 arrests, among them a convicted child molester, and Phoenix police rescued a 16-year-old trafficking victim, he said.
Elsewhere in Texas, authorities in McLennan County, which includes Waco, announced last week they made 71 arrests under the program.