(WKBN) – With January being National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the Valley is not immune to the fight against human trafficking.
Over the past several years, dozens of arrests have been made in the Mahoning Valley related to human trafficking.
One of the most recent investigations by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force led to 34 people being arrested in the Valley. They were accused of trying to meet children online for sex.
From June 1 through July 29, 2021, 14 people were arrested in Columbiana County. From July 30 through August 1, 2021, 20 people were arrested in Mahoning County. The men are facing multiple charges, including things like attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, possession of criminal tools, importuning and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.
A statewide operation in 2021 led to the arrest of more than 90 people. During that operation, officials say 53 victims of human trafficking were identified and referred to social services.
Apart from these big stings, there are also individual cases of human trafficking. In October of 2021, a Girard man was arrested accused of trying to have sex with a 15-year-old girl. On October 21, William Doran waived his right to a preliminary hearing and the case was bound over to the Columbiana County Grand Jury.
Just a year prior, in December of 2020, 14 men were arrested in a Liberty Township human trafficking operation. The sting targeted people who were trying to buy sex online. The men were charged with soliciting and possessing criminal tools.
In a statewide operation, 45 missing children were found, leading to the arrest of 177 people, 14 of them from Mahoning County. Altogether, 76 missing and exploited children cases were cleared, and 109 survivors were rescued across Ohio.
Eight men were arrested in March of 2019 in what investigators called an undercover human trafficking sting operation. The men were arrested in Liberty Township and charged with solicitation and possession of criminal tools.
A few months later, in May, 16 men were arrested in Mahoning County in what investigators called, “Operation Pedo-Cure III.” They faced charges of importuning, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possession of criminal tools. They were accused of trying to solicit boys and girls for sexual activity. What they didn’t know at the time, was that they were really talking to undercover law enforcement agents.
In June of 2021, 36-year-old Victoria Gregory was arrested in Youngstown, accused of selling a pre-teen family member for sex to support a drug habit. She was charged with three counts of rape charges as well as trafficking in person for commercial sex acts and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. 56-year-old Mark Burney, was a customer and is accused of raping the girl, prosecutors say. According to investigators, the girl was 8 or 9 years old at the time. According to court records, the case against Gregory was dismissed due to her death.
Back in August of 2018, an investigation revealed at least 80 females were being exploited in what was called an “organized trafficking ring preying on drug addicts and prostitutes.” Investigators say Ronald Hellman was transporting girls of all ages to Charles Krusac in Austintown and got paid for every female he delivered.
Later, in October of 2018, Krusac would die of an apparent suicide. Hellman pleaded guilty to nine counts, including trafficking in persons and compelling prostitution. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
According to the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force, between 2014 – 2020 there have been more than 3,000 victims identified by five separate agencies.