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TBI Director Mark Gwyn

A total of 31 men and four women were arrested in the latest prostitution sting in the Chattanooga and North Georgia area, law enforcement officials announced Friday.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents placed three online ads, posing as prostitutes, that ran Feb. 2-4, officials said at a news conference Friday evening. TBI agents arrested 16 men, while GBI agents arrested an additional 12 on prostitution-related charges, officials said.

In addition, agents targeted men advertising online to solicit sex with a minor and made three additional arrests.

"There is no greater responsibility than protecting those who cannot protect themselves," TBI Director Mark Gwyn said.

Four women also were arrested and charged with prostitution. Officials said the operation also identified several women who are potential victims of human trafficking. They were offered housing, counseling and addiction treatment.

The agents focused on Dalton and Chattanooga. Gwyn and GBI Director Vernon Keenan praised the cooperation of other law enforcement agencies, including the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, the Chattanooga Police Department, the Whitfield County Sheriff's Department, the Dalton Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, Second Life Chattanooga and End Slavery Tennessee.

"This operation gave us an opportunity to share our experience, information and resources, across units, agencies and state lines, to make sure there is no safe place to hide for criminals who would victimize the most vulnerable among us," Gwyn said.

TBI agents have previously targeted men looking for sex in Chattanooga. In October 2015, 20 men were arrested on prostitution-related charges after a four-day sting. Officers said they had placed advertisements on the backpage.com web site with undercover agents pretending to be prostitutes. Officials said more than 140 contacts were made in about 10 and a half hours, according to Times Free Press archives.

Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at sjohnson@timesfreepress.com, 423-757-6673, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP, and on Facebook, www. facebook.com/noogahealth.

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