Two pastors were among 32 men and women arrested for prostitution and human trafficking-related charges stemming from a three-day investigation conducted by agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and detectives with the Knoxville Police Department.
The TBI Newsroom said Jason Kennedy, a Grace Baptist Church children’s pastor for children from birth to fifth grade, responded to ads for what he thought were girls under the age of 18.
TBI Director Mark Gwyn told ABC6 undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com during the three-day sting operation.
“All of these people are somebody’s neighbor.”
— WBIR Channel 10 (@wbir) May 20, 2016
Kennedy allegedly responded to an ad on Backpage.com on May 19 via a text message, according to court records. He was told a second female who was under 18 would be present, and they negotiated a $100 fee for a half hour of sex with both females.
Kennedy was told where to meet the girls and upon arrival, he was told one of the girls was only 15. Kennedy allegedly said he wanted to have sex with both the underage girl and the other woman, despite what he was told. He was arrested after he put $100 on the counter and dropped his pants.
Zubin Parakh, who was also arrested in the sting, served as a volunteer “creative pastor” at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge, according to the church’s website.
Oak Ridge pastor arrested Saturday on human trafficking charge: https://t.co/7sAWUM6flX pic.twitter.com/2a7ImxjX60
— knoxnews (@knoxnews) May 23, 2016
Parakh allegedly agreed to have sex with an undercover agent whom he believed to be 17-years-old and agreed to pay $100 for 30 minutes with the girl. Life House Church of Oak Ridge says in a statement that they are saddened by what happened.
“We are saddened today as a result of information relating Zubin Parakh who was a volunteer worker at our church. Our church and its leaders were not aware of any alleged misconduct regarding Mr. Parakh. However, we are praying for all parties involved.”
“We both ask for and hope our church family’s privacy will be respected throughout this process.”
As for Kennedy, he was fired from his position, according to a statement from Grace Baptist Church.
“The children’s pastor of Grace Baptist Church has been terminated as a result of an arrest in a police sting related to prostitution and human trafficking.”
“The actions of the children’s pastor for which he has been arrested were part of his life outside the church, and we have received no questions or concerns related to his conduct within the church or its ministries.”
Kate Trudell of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking said more than 90 minors are listed for human trafficking online in Tennessee each month.
“Human trafficking is a demand-driven crime.”
— WATE 6 On Your Side (@6News) May 21, 2016
During the investigation, more than 300 contacts were made to ads placed on the website, according to TBI. They said one of their agents posed as a juvenile girl, and the ad received more than two dozen contacts.
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said his department hopes the arrests help put an end to human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is a scourge on society. We will continue to commit all the necessary resources and work alongside our law enforcement partners to help protect our most precious resource our children.”
Kennedy, who is married with three children, will appear in court on May 31.
Rausch voiced the dismay so many others from the community had expressed.
“These individuals make these choices themselves. Their families, as we typically find out, the families have no idea. They’re oblivious to what these individuals are doing. And unfortunately, that’s who gets impacted the most by this is the families.”