The owner of one of East Tennessee's largest bail bonding companies has been arrested in an undercover sting operation for allegedly accepting an offer of sex from an officer posing as a 17-year-old girl.
Thomas "Andy" Baggenstoss, 43, reportedly responded to an internet ad from his cellphone and agreed to meet the undercover Chattanooga police officer, who stated she was 17 years old, at a hotel room near the Hamilton Place mall, according to Hamilton County court records.
Once he arrived, he met the undercover officer and gave her $100 in cash in exchange for sex, began to undress and groped the officer, court records state.
He was then placed under arrest and charged with trafficking for commercial sex acts. His bond was set at $50,000.
"I'm concerned by what I see as a charge of trafficking that does not appear to me, on its face, to be any different from the typical patronizing prostitution case — not in any way minimizing that," Baggenstoss' attorney, Lee Davis, said. "We are in the course of our investigation, and from what we understand, this was a case where consenting adults were meeting at a local hotel and they were busted by police we are still looking into it."
"Sex trafficking is a terrible crime and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Davis added. "Soliciting prostitution is completely different. And while illegal and wrong, it is not sex trafficking."
Trafficking for commercial sex acts is a Class B felony, punishable by eight to 30 years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine. And patronizing prostitution is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Baggenstoss owns bonding companies that operate in more than 70 Tennessee counties, including A+ Bail Bonding Co. and Cumberland Bail Bonding Co., according to Times Free Press archives.
He also owns Tennessee Recovery and Monitoring, which provides electronic monitoring such as ankle bracelets, drug and alcohol testing and steering-wheel locks for people on probation, as well as Baggenstoss Farms in Tracy City, Tennessee.
In 2017, Baggenstoss' bail bonding companies were suspended in Marion County after one of his former agents was caught soliciting sex from a client and claimed it was common practice. The agent was caught in a sting by Marion County Sheriff's Office investigators after they recruited a woman who agreed to wear a wire and get the agent to bond her out of jail.
Investigators heard the agent talk to her about paying him with sex and how he'd done the same thing with other female clients. They arrested the agent, naked below the waist, in a motel room they had rented while the woman waited in the bathroom.
According to Tennessee law, bonding authority may be suspended on a variety of grounds, including professional misconduct. And local court rules also require a bonding company owner to notify the court immediately if an agent or its owner is arrested.
Contact Rosana Hughes at 423-757-6327, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.