BELTON — Nine women, ages 18 to 25, were rescued in a three-day sex trafficking sting centered in Killeen. Seven of the women were from Killeen as well as an 18-year-old was from Dallas and one woman was from Asia.

One woman is pregnant, Bell County Maj. T.J. Cruz said Tuesday during a news conference.

Fourteen men and one woman were arrested and charged from May 6-8 with either human trafficking, promotion of prostitution or prostitution, Sheriff Eddy Lange said Tuesday during a news conference.

Sheriff

Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange, right, and Maj. T.J. Cruz discuss a sting operation that rescued nine women and led to the arrest of 15 people.

 

Both good and bad news were shared by Lange.

The bad news was that human sex trafficking is still found in Bell County, but the good news was that Bell County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies are “making a dent in human trafficking,” Lange said.

The alleged offenders

Those arrested were from Temple, Killeen, Goldthwaite, Austin, Copperas Cove, Arlington and Dallas. Two were active military and one was retired from the military, Cruz said.

Charged with human trafficking were Tatyana Clemens of Arlington and Billy Shell of Dallas. Clemens was arrested the second day, and Shell was taken into custody the last day. Both Clemens and Shell are well-known by other law enforcement agencies, according to Cruz. They had the identification, Social Security cards and other paperwork for the nine women in their possession when arrested.

Arrested and charged with promoting prostitution by delivering the women to their “appointments” were Cecil Smith, Randall Steele and Larry Golden, all of Killeen.

Ten men were charged with buying the services of prostitutes.

David Kulhanek is a corporal and Myles Broadnax is a specialist, both stationed at Fort Hood, Special Crimes Unit Lt. Michele Cianci verified. Christopher Shaw of Copperas Cove is retired military and was charged with prostitution.

Gabriel Gomez of Harker Heights is on an immigration detainer.

Roshana Bhakta of Killeen owns America’s Best Value Inn in Killeen, Cianci said.

Others charged with prostitution were William Czebeley of Temple, Antonio Hampton of Killeen, Bobby Boaldin of Goldthwaite, Omar Cherry of Harker Heights and Melvin Johnson of Austin.

One of the men charged with prostitution was in his car listening on his phone to “how to be a pimp,” Cruz said

The challenge

After three previous successful stings where “johns” were targeted, Lange challenged Cianci and her unit to go further and catch the people behind the scenes and beyond the johns, he said. Cianci accepted the challenge, and the work and planning began — along with a plan to get the victims help versus arresting them and charging them with prostitution.

Skilled individuals from Unbound out of Waco and Refugee Services of Texas, located in Austin, were brought in to talk to the victims, and four of the women accepted help afterward to get out of the lifestyle in which they were allegedly trapped. The victims will be relocated, Susan Peters, national director for Unbound, said.

Peters was pleased Unbound was asked to partner with the sheriff’s department so they could be there for the women, she said. The women are given a quota to fill, which could be from 10 to 15 clients serviced per day. If the women don’t meet that quota, they are beaten, Peters said.

Each trafficker usually has as many as three to five women under control, she said.

Building a relationship with the survivors helps Unbound and other agencies get the survivors’ lives “back on track,” Peters added.

The two agencies cooperated to let the women know the resources available to them, which includes safe housing, meeting immediate medical needs, food and counseling. Physicians trained to treat human sex trafficking victims provide the medical care, she said. Survivors help by talking to the victims.

A total of 90 victims were helped last year in McLennan and surrounding counties, Peters said.

A message to victims

Peters had a message for other victims who haven’t yet been reached.

“It’s not their fault,” she said. “They are being manipulated and get caught up in it (sex trafficking). There is a way out.”

Nationwide, the average age of sex trafficking victims is 15 years old, according to Peters.

“We are here to save one at a time, and that does include male victims, too,” Lange said he told the team.

Anyone who has information about possible traffickers or victims should call law enforcement agencies to report it.

Because of these arrests, eight other states may have cases resolved, and the reach may become international, he said.

Even though an operation like this one is expensive, Lange said, “How do you put a dollar figure on a person’s life?”

Twelve people, including some from outside the department, focused on the main operation for three days — but the work and planning put into it went on for much longer.

“Getting traffickers takes a lot of manpower, time and research,” Peters said.

“The problem still exists, and other counties have contacted us for help,” Lange said.

A future sting will target child molesters, he added.

(1) comment

Hacksaw

What is it about the bail process that keeps confusing these Bell County Judges? I would think enslavement for the purpose of prostitution would call for a higher bail than $300? But that's just me.

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