This story was updated May 17, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.
A 52-year-old Dunlap, Tennessee, man was among 10 men arrested in an undercover human trafficking operation conducted by the TBI that targeted individuals attempting to buy illicit sex from minors, according to a news release.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials said the operation, conducted by the TBI, the 13th District Attorney General's office, the Cookeville Police Department, Putnam County Sheriff's Office and Homeland Security Investigations, resulted in the arrests.
On May 8, the Putnam County grand jury returned felony indictments charging the men. At the time of this release, eight of those men had been taken into custody:
» Kenneth Hobbs, 52, Dunlap, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Lance Hatmaker, 30, Carthage, Tennessee, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Matthew Kenty, 19, Birmingham, Alabama, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Nicanor Baraiac, 42, Lenoir City, Tennessee, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Nathaniel Stalnaker, 19, Cookeville, Tennessee, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Justin Adcock, 28, Algood, Tennessee, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Daniel Baltazar, 34, Cookeville, charged with patronizing prostitution
» Marcus Clark, 18, Monroe, Tennessee, charged with patronizing prostitution
"With each similar operation we conduct, we want to send the same message; that we will not tolerate the sexual exploitation of any person in our community," TBI Acting Director Jason Locke said in the release. "This is a demand-driven crime, involving men from all kinds of backgrounds. As a state, Tennessee has led the fight to see to it that no child or adult falls victim to these sexual predators."
The operation began in Cookeville on Feb. 15-17 focusing on people seeking to engage in commercial sex acts with girls under the age of 18, and those engaged in trafficking others for commercial sex acts.
For all three days of the operation, advertisements were placed in the "Women Seeking Men" section of backpage.com, and two female TBI agents posed as individuals offering sex on the site, authorities said.
During the course of the resulting text or phone conversations, agents identified themselves as being 14 to 17 years old. A total of 10 men, including college students, a mail carrier and a landscaping company owner, traveled to the location to meet for the purpose of illicit sex from a female they believed to be a minor.
"As significant as these arrests are, we are only scratching the surface," Cookeville police Chief Randy Evans said. "It is incumbent upon us to remain vigilant, and pursue and prosecute human trafficking across the state, as we all continue to battle this heinous crime."
During the operation, men using 697 unique phone numbers responded to the ads that were posted online, seeking to purchase illicit sex, officials said. The total number of contacts, such as text messages and calls, was 5,211.
Some of the conversations between these men and undercover agents continued after they learned they were chatting with someone they believed to be a minor. During the operation, agents and intelligence analysts also gathered information in an effort to identify and recover potential victims of human trafficking.
"I am pleased that this investigation was successful," 13th District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway said. "At the same time, I find it disturbing and tragic that there is even a need to conduct such an investigation in our community."
Putnam County Sheriff Eddie Farris agreed.
"Human trafficking and exploitation of children and young adults have no place in our community," Farris said. "I want our citizens to know that we take every threat to their safety seriously. Our agency will always work with law enforcement partners to help eliminate human trafficking from occurring."
The operation was the 13th time the TBI has worked with partner law enforcement agencies across the state to help identify, investigate and prosecute trafficking, officials said.