BELTON — Thirty Central Texas men — including one armed with a gun, knife, body bag and rope — were arrested in a two-day prostitution sting by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department and the Temple Police Department.
Spc. Tyler Willison, 24, a member of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, came into a Temple hotel room with four strands of rope and a knife in his pants pockets. A body bag, duct tape and a gun were found during a subsequent search of Willison’s vehicle, Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange said during a news conference.
“We probably prevented a serious crime somewhere,” Lange said.
Fort Hood will consider all evidence presented by local authorities when determining whether action is appropriate in Willison’s case, Fort Hood officials said Thursday.
“Fort Hood officials cooperate with local authorities involving crimes committed by soldiers in the local community. Ultimately, Fort Hood maintains authority to prosecute soldiers once the command is presented with evidence of misconduct under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Fort Hood officials said.
The 30 suspects range in age from 17 to 57.
Also arrested were Marcus Phy Brown, Travis Hunt, Nathan Murray, Barron Ramsey, Darragnan Seay, Toby Culp, Fernando Gomez, Zeb Johnson, Brandon Lemus, Robert Martinez, Brandon McMeen, Conrad Rogers and Ernest Soto, all of Temple; Spc. Andrew Kuhn, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Spec. Ralph Phelan, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, and Spc. Richard Swanson, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, all of Fort Hood; Jose Moreno and James Gattison, Killeen; Christopher Colwell, Salado; Kenneth Solack, Kempner; Frank Ceballos, Copperas Cove; Joseph Holland, Chilton; Luis Rivas, Morgan’s Point Resort; Austin Woodward, Briggs; Clinton Young, Belton; Luis Lopez-Gomez, Harker Heights; Jose Luna-Gonzalez, Waco; and Erasmo Maya, Belton.
Lopez-Gomez, Luna-Gonzales and Maya were listed as undocumented immigrants.
After the undocumented immigrants go through the Bell County court system, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will probably deport them, Lange said.
Temple Police Chief Floyd Mitchell said he agreed to join the undercover operation because crime doesn’t stop at the city limits, he said. He was glad to give the resources he had available to attack crime on all levels.
Everyone involved in the two operations played an important part.
Four Temple Police officers assisted Bell County, as did officers from the Bryan Police Department who came to observe and learn how to conduct a sting.
Bell County Special Crimes Unit Investigator Donnie Lohmann handled an average of 5,800 texts in an eight-hour period of time along with the radio, he said.
The Temple Police Department could do a sting of their own but, while they could, it would probably be better to pool resources, Mitchell said.
“Maj. Cruz and Sheriff Lange are doing a very good job in attacking this issue. This is one of the priorities for that department,” Mitchell said.
“Whenever you do an operation like this, it’s hard to be surprised by the number of people you draw into this,” Mitchell said. “Disappointing, yes, but surprising, no.”
Some of those arrested had more charges in addition to prostitution, like possession of drug paraphernalia, resisting arrest and failure to identify as a fugitive. Some are on probation, Lt. Michele Cianci, director of the Special Crimes Unit, said.
Both Lange and Mitchell talked about the importance the involvement of the media plays in fighting human sex trafficking.
At least half of the men arrested asked if their picture would be publicized because they were “scared to death their families would find out,” Lohmann said.
“Putting these people out on ‘Front Street’ is important,” Mitchell said. “Like Sheriff Lange said, you never know who is on the other side of that keyboard. Sometimes public shame costs more than the night in jail.”