(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined federal, state and local law enforcement partners to announce the success of a statewide anti-human trafficking operation.
Operation Autumn Hope, coordinated through AG Yost’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, encompassed more than 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government partners to break the cycle that fuels sex trafficking across the state. The broad-based effort, carried out in various parts of the state simultaneously, identified four priorities:
- Rescuing victims of human trafficking and referring them to social services
- Recovering missing and exploited children
- Apprehending those seeking to have sex with a minor
- Arresting male johns seeking to buy sex
“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio!”
During the operation, the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Trask Force, Columbus PACT Unit and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force rescued 109 human trafficking victims and referred them to social services.
“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” said Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”
Sondra Miller, president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Center, whose agency was part of the social services network prepared to aid the rescued victims, said: “Survivors of rape and sex trafficking deserve to be believed and have access to justice. By holding offenders accountable and reducing demand for human trafficking, this operation prevented many others from being harmed.”
Across southern Ohio, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, including 45 by physical recovery by the U.S. Marshal’s Service. Among those missing included a 15-year-old girl missing from Cleveland whose recovery linked her and other possible victims to an individual in Columbus suspected of human trafficking; a 15-year-old male with two warrants who is a suspect in multiple shootings and a homicide; and a 14-year-old girl who was reported missing by the Lancaster Police Department who was recovered in Columbus within six hours of being reported missing.
“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”
The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Franklin Count Sheriff’s Office Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force apprehended 22 individuals seeking to have sex with a minor. Those arrested and charged with felony counts of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools and other felony charges include a pastor, students, and a rehabilitation resident advisor.
“These predators shamelessly target the most innocent and defenseless members of our community,” said Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin. “Operation Autumn Hope is sending a loud and clear message: We are watching, we will catch you, and we will protect our children.”
In Cuyahoga, Franklin and Lucas counties, 157 men were arrested on charges of soliciting and other crimes – a component of Operation Autumn Hope focused on reducing the demand for sex. Those arrested were charged with soliciting and other charges included a fireman, an attorney and a motivational speaker.
“The Dublin Police Department recognizes the importance of collaborating with local, state and federal agencies in order to rid our communities of this painful exploitation of our fellow citizens,” Dublin Chief of Police Justin Páez said. “Through operations and efforts like this, we can hold people accountable as well as bring justice and support to victims of human trafficking.”
The agencies and entities that participated in Operation Autumn Hope were the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, U.S. Marshal’s Service, FBI, Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, Columbus Division of Police P.A.C.T. Unit, Columbus Division of Police Missing Persons Unit, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office HOPE Task Force and ICAC Task Force, Columbus City Attorney’s Office, Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, Dublin Police Department, Powell Police Department, Grove City Police Department, Gahanna Police Department, Upper Arlington Police Department, Westerville Police Department, Grandview Heights Police Department, New Albany Police Department, Southeast Mental Health Addiction Services, Columbus Public Health, The Sanctuary Collective, CATCH Court, Out of Darkness, RREACT Team, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office, Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, Mahoning Count Prosecutor’s Office, Canfield Fair Police Department, Youngstown Police Department, Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children, Austintown Police District, Cortland Police Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Department of Public Safety’s Ohio Investigative Unit, Adult Parole Authority, the Cuyahoga County Regional Human Trafficking Task Force, Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, Independence Police Department, Westlake Police Department, Beachwood Police Department, Orange Police Department, Middleburg Heights Police Department, Cuyahoga Department of Children and Family Services, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, and the Renee Jones Empowerment Center.
Statements of Support
Columbus Division of Police – Deputy Chief Jennifer Knight
“This multi-jurisdictional statewide collaboration between the Columbus Division of Police, other law enforcement agencies, and private partnerships is changing the dynamic in the fight against human trafficking in the state of Ohio. The Columbus Division of Police believes a comprehensive plan based on community partnerships is the only way to identify predators, rescue victims, and break the cycle of prostitution that impacts our neighborhoods.”
FBI – Chris Hoffman, Special Agent in Charge, FBI-Cincinnati
“When federal, state and local law enforcement agencies join together, we can better protect the most vulnerable. We are all committed to rescuing trafficking victims and ensuring those who prey on others are criminally charged.”
Homeland Security Investigations – Vance Callender, Special Agent in Charge for HSI in Michigan and Ohio
“This operation, with the cooperation of the law enforcement agencies, social services, and non-governmental organizations, has brought to the forefront the realities of human trafficking and the exploitation of trafficking victims. Together, HSI and its partners will continue with its victim-centered approach and ensure that traffickers, here in Ohio and beyond, face justice for their criminal acts.”
Case Western Reserve University – Laura McNally-Levine, Associate Dean for Experiential Education & Director, Milton A. Kramer Law Clinic Center
“We are thankful to the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Taskforce and the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission for their dedication to fighting human trafficking here in Ohio and Cuyahoga County. CWRU’s Human Trafficking Law Project is proud be a partner in this endeavor. This week, we sent ten of our faculty, law students, and masters-level social work students into the field to participate in Operation Autumn Hope. Students and faculty members met with survivors and offered free legal representation and social service referrals. This experience allowed our students to witness firsthand a prime example of the inter-professional collaboration that is critical to anti-trafficking efforts. Participants gained insight into the incredible toll this heinous crime takes on its victims, and observed the difference that can be made by providing survivors with access to legal and social services. We are grateful for the tremendous efforts of law enforcement throughout this operation and for the opportunity to support survivors in such a unique capacity.”
Westlake Police Department – Gerald Vogel, Captain
“The Westlake Police Department is proud to have partnered with the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission and the Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force to target those who are willing to support human trafficking by promoting and paying for sexual services. Removing the market that targets some of the most vulnerable in our society is an important endeavor, and working in cooperation with federal, state and local partners is necessary to combat this evil. Westlake is safer due to this ongoing proactive initiative.”
Beachwood Police Department – Kelly J. Stillman, Chief of Police
“The Beachwood Police Department fully supports the statewide human trafficking initiative and is proud to have contributed to the Operation Autumn Hope’s success. On behalf of the City of Beachwood, thank you for the opportunity to assist in making our community and region a safer place. We look forward to future collaborative law enforcement efforts.”
City of Middleburg Heights Police Department – Edward J. Tomba, Chief of Police
“Law enforcement and the residents of the City of Middleburg Heights support the efforts of the Human Trafficking Task Force. We will continue to advocate and protect the most vulnerable in our society and prosecute those who prey on them.”
CATCH Court – Judge Jodi Thomas
“We were so impressed by the thoughtful and strategic action of the task force this week. The care and holistic attention provided to the women was incredible. We are so excited to witness the impact these operations will have on our community and those in need of intervention. Our goal in CATCH Court is for the women to feel seen, heard, and valued. It is profoundly encouraging to know that the efforts of the Human Trafficking Task Force are encompassing those same values.”
The Salvation Army in Central Ohio – Michelle Hannan, Anti-Human Trafficking Program Director
“The Salvation Army is very pleased to partner with the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to provide victim advocacy and support to survivors identified through the task force’s human trafficking investigations. We are grateful to have the opportunity to help survivors access the many services they need when exiting trafficking, such as food, clothing, shelter, counseling, court advocacy and legal services. The Salvation Army’s role is to meet survivors at the initial investigation and to walk alongside them throughout their healing journey. As a community, combating human trafficking requires a coordinated, collaborative approach between law enforcement and victim services. We appreciate the great work of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to obtain justice for survivors.”
Southeast Healthcare RREACT & HOPE Programs – James Alexander, RREACT & Hope Program Manager
“Southeast Healthcare assigned their crisis intervention specialist to the HOPE Task Force specific to this operation to assist individuals struggling with Opiate/Substance Use Disorder for the sole purpose of providing linkage to immediate substance use and mental health treatment options including inpatient and medication assistance treatment. In addition to providing linkage to treatment, Narcan and resource materials was distributed. The goal of having Southeast Healthcare crisis intervention specialist involved helps to remove the stigma of addiction and mental illness. Southeast Healthcare has collaborative relationships with other ADAMH Board system of care providers.”
Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department – Chief Deputy Bryan Smith
“Sex trafficking has the potential to effect any community. Sex trafficking may appear to be a victimless crime, but it is not. It is a crime that hides and operates in plain sight. Those who profit off the sale of human beings are a catalyst of devastation towards individuals, families, and communities. Those who buy or rent a person are as equally culpable in the degradation of the individual and their community. Conducting proactive undercover sting operations is an effective tactic used to curtail that devastation.
Sheriff Schilling of Cuyahoga County is proud to partner with Ohio Attorney General Yost and multiple law enforcement agencies in combating this crime statewide. In addition to our law enforcement partners, our social service and non-governmental partners are a vital link to connecting victims and those at risk of being victimized to services that address needs of victims on an individual level.
Let this operation be a warning for those who sell human beings, you are not welcome in Ohio or Cuyahoga County. For those who buy sexual services, the next door you knock on maybe an officer waiting to place you in handcuffs. For those of you who are being trafficked, reach out for help by contacting 911 in an emergency or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888)373-7888.”