14 charged in Greenville Police Department’s “Buyer Beware” prostitution operation

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Fourteen men are charged after a reverse prostitution operation conducted by the Greenville Police Department’s Special Operations Bureau and Tactical Anti-Crime Unit.

It took place Thursday, February 25.

In a news release, police said the concept was simple: Target the men who buy sex and try to help the women who sell it.

In the operation, undercover detectives posed as both prostitutes and johns and posted advertisements to online websites soliciting sex. Over the course of four hours, police said that dozens of people answered the online ads, with 14 men showing up to the advertised location. Those men, who ranged in age from 18-52, traveled from eight different cities, and spanned all different socioeconomic backgrounds. They were charged with soliciting prostitution. Their names and ages are as follows:

Daniel Kelly, 31, Winterville, NC;  Isidro Leon, 44, Wilson, NC;  Santario Burns, 20, Greenville, NC;  Kevin Lee Gilly, 37, Greenville, NC ;  Baltazar Sergio Martinez-Tinajera, 35, Kinston, NC ;  Joseph Edueard Rosales, 35, Ayden, NC;   Alexis Infante-Selvan, 18, Hookerton, NC;  Raul Angel-Ramos, 28, Greenville, NC;  Darius Montay Chapman, 23, Greenville, NC;   Edgar Quintavilla-Saravia, 41, Greenville, NC;  Jose Gilberto Ambriz, 32, Kinston, NC;  Barry Louis Grimes, 52, Greenville, NC ;  Samuel William Sumrell, 50, Snow Hill, NC ;  Joe Ray Lee, 39, Grifton, NC.

Police said three women responded to the location in response to the online advertisements. They were offered a helping hand. Resources from Project FIGHT (Freeing Individuals Gripped by Human Trafficking), a division of the Salvation Army, were on-hand working side by side with detectives to not only identify victims of  human trafficking, but provide them with resources to help free them from their current lifestyle. Project FIGHT is one of many different organizations the Greenville Police Department partners with. It provides comprehensive case management for victims of human trafficking found in North Carolina, and works to generate education and awareness about Human Trafficking in the community. Project FIGHT works with clients to provide them with basic needs, mental health assessments, education, employment, housing, and other resources. Since its inception in 2011, Project FIGHT has seen more than 140 cases of human trafficking in North Carolina. The state ranks in the top ten in the country for prevalence of human trafficking.

The February 25th operation is part of a larger effort by the GPD to spread awareness and combat human trafficking. Focusing attention on the people who pay for sex has proven to deter them from engaging in prostitution, which in turn reduces the demand in the sex industry and curbs human trafficking.  In 2014, GPD assigned two detectives to primarily investigate human trafficking cases. The detectives have gone through extensive training regarding recognizing the signs of human trafficking and identifying potential victims.  In the past two years, the detectives have come in contact with more than 25 potential victims of human trafficking and have been able to build 10 different cases, several of which are now going to trial in both federal and state courts.  The case against 35-year-old Derrick Whitehurst will be the first ever human trafficking case to go to trial in Pitt County.

In 2013, North Carolina legislators passed the Safe Harbor bill (SB 638), which increased the penalties for prostitution and provided added protection for victims of sexual exploitation.

Some of the changes under SB 638 include:

  • Solicitation of prostitution and/or patronizing a prostituted person is now a felony offense, except when first offense is with an adult victim
  • Promoting prostitution is now a felony offense
  • All minors are protected from prosecution for charges of prostitution
  • Prostitution offense can be erased from a human trafficking victim’s records.
  • Requires offender to compensate their victims, according to the Fair Wages Act

Instead of the traditional enforcement efforts when it comes to prostitution, GPD detectives take a non-judgmental, victim-centered approach. Victims of sex-trafficking often have to endure years of trauma and abuse, yet the demand in the sex industry is at an all-time high. Crimes involving sexual exploitation often coincide directly with violent crimes, drug crimes and fraud. It is our mission, as law enforcement and community caretakers, to help change that perception, educate the public about the issue of human trafficking, and make Greenville a safer place.

GPD referred the women to Project Fight, an organization committed to helping human trafficking victims. It’s still unclear if the women in this situation were offering illegal services against their will, something that is difficult to identify.

Jenny Adams with Project Fight said, “tThere’s no one anecdote, there’s no one picture of what it looks like.”

Police Chief Mark Holtzman said, “It really is often times a substance abuse, a mental health issue, an economic issue.”

Chief Holtzman says the only way to continue the fight against human trafficking is to take all prostitution cases seriously.

For more information about resources for victims of human trafficking visit: https://www.salvationarmycarolinas.org/wakecounty/programs/social-ministries/project-fight/

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