Greenville police say 27 men were arrested in a prostitution sting. A teacher, pastor and business owner are among those facing charges.
“Operation May Day” involved undercover officers posing as women on websites known for soliciting prostitution.
“Our sting operation lured [the men who were arrested], and they brought cash payments in exchange for sexual encounters,” said Donnie Porter with the Greenville Police Department. “And of course, our officers were there to arrest them when they showed up.”
Some of the people arrested include an educator, a member of the clergy, and a business owner.
Authorities said this sting sends a message that this activity will not be tolerated, and they hope it curbs other issues that comes accompany prostitution, such as trafficking, drugs, and guns.
“We have ten strip clubs just here in the Usptate. We have lots of hidden brothels. We have fake illicit massage palors…I mean the sex industry is everywhere,” said Zaina Greene, who is the co-chair of the Upstate Human Trafficking Task Force. “We just don’t realize it. “
Police said most of the meetings would occur during the afternoons, typically around lunchtime. Police also said they seized nearly $3,000 in the investigation.
According to Greene, most solicitation occurs online now.
“A lot of people think, ‘oh, we don’t see it happening on the streets anymore…prostitution has gotten better. Our streets are more cleaned up,’ but what we’re seeing is it’s just moved online,” she said.
She also said prostitution and human trafficking go hand in hand.
“Greenville County did a study several years ago where they had taken nine women that had been arrested on prostitution charges, and out of those nine, seven of them were actually either currently being trafficked or had been trafficked in their past,” Greene said.
Among the 27 men arrested are faces you might see anywhere.
Jon Paul Placko is a physical education teacher at Taylors Elementary School. School officials have since placed him on administrative leave. Kevin Baluch owns the restaurant Southern Fried Green Tomatoes. He didn’t respond to our request for comment, but his wife said he’s getting help. Kurt Stephens was a pastor at Palmetto Baptist Church beginning in 2010, according to the church’s website. However, his bio has since been removed from the website. No one with the church responded to our request for comment.
“I think a lot of time buyers think that it’s a victimless crime, and unfortunately it’s not a victimless crime,” Greene said. “A lot of these people that are purchasing are victims of trafficking and other forms of abuse.”
According to Greene, buyers need help, too.
“I think it’s just honesly a sex addiction,” she said. “A lot of times what we see is it starts with pornography.”
Those who are struggling with sex addiction or believe they are a victim of trafficking can reach out to non-profit Switch, which Greene operates, for resources.
You can read the full list of those arrested in Operation May Day here.