YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Two men who pleaded guilty to charges they tried to arrange to have sex with minors were sentenced Thursday.
Judge Anthony D’Apolito in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court sentenced Thomas Ashby, 35, of Warren, to 18 months in prison after he pleaded guilty Jan. 31 to charges of compelling prostitution, a third-degree felony; attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, a fourth-degree felony; and two fifth-degree felony counts of possession of criminal tools.
John Burnett, 36, was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty Jan. 30 to charges of compelling prostitution and disseminating matter harmful to juveniles.
The two are among 17 men who were arrested in August as part of a sex sting by members of the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force.
The task force was targeting people who were trying to arrange sex online with minors.
The defendants thought they were talking to a minor online, but it was really an undercover law enforcement officer. They were met by police when they showed up at their prearranged rendezvous.
Burnett, however, told investigators that he got “cold feet” and did not show up for his meeting with who he thought was a 15-year-old girl who he chatted with on an escort site.
Assistant Prosecutor Caitlyn Andrews said Burnett did not show up to the other two meetings, but authorities took him into custody because it was the third time he spoke to an undercover officer online for sex.
Burnett’s attorney, Joe Ohlin, said his client talked a lot of talk and didn’t walk the walk.
“It needs to come to something that Mr. Burnett didn’t follow through,” Ohlin said.
Ohlin also said his client has no prior criminal record and has been undergoing counseling because of childhood sexual abuse he endured. Ohlin asked for a sentence of probation.
Judge D’Apolito said he was concerned Burnett did not stop the conversation when he learned the person he was speaking to was 15.
After watching Burnett be sentenced, Ashby came up to the podium trembling and in tears.
Andrews said Ashby was caught speaking to who he thought was a 36-year-old woman who offered her daughter for sex as well. Andrews said Ashby wanted to have sex with a mother and a daughter and he did show up for his meeting, where he was arrested.
Ashby’s attorney, David Betras, said his client had childhood abuse coupled with bipolar disorder. He did agree with the punishment, but he added, “what is sufficient punishment?”
In court with Ashby were his wife and two uncles. The uncles spoke on his behalf as Ashby cried the entire time he was before the judge. The uncles and his wife all said Ashby deserved punishment, but they also asked for leniency.
Ashby apologized through tears and said he was scared about going to jail again.
“I am begging you for a second chance,” he said through tears. “I will never do this again.”
Ashby said he will keep going to counseling. He said the six days he spent in jail before he made bail was “terrifying.”
As with Burnett, Judge D’Apolito said he was disturbed that Ashby did not end the conversation when he found out a minor was involved.
Both defendants are also required to register as Tier II sex offenders.