The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced on Friday that authorities had arrested 32 men in a Knoxville human trafficking operation.
Among those arrested was JasonKennedy the pastor of a children’s ministry. He has since been fired from his job at the Grace Baptist church in Karns and is charged with human trafficking and patronizing prostitution.
Zubin Parakh, a volunteer creative pastor at the Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge was also arrested.
Kennedy, 46, and Parakh, 32, were caught in a three-day operation in which undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com, a common site for escorts. Kennedy and Parakh were both charged with trafficking after specifically seeking out sex with an underage girl, according to KGW.
Kennedy is facing a Class A trafficking charge and, if found guilty, could spend between 15 and 60 years behind bars and have to pay a $50,000 fine. He is currently in a county jail with bond set at $50,500.
According to WLTV, Kennedy responded via text to an ad placed by an undercover agent. He then received a text back in which he was made aware that two underage girls would be present. He haggled with the agents and finally agreed on a price of $100 for half an hour of sex with both of the girls.
Since his arrest, Kennedy has been removed from hisposition at Grace Baptist, which issued the following statement:
“The children’s pastor of Grace Baptist Church has been terminated as a result of an arrest in a police sting related to prostitution and human trafficking.
“The actions of the children’s pastor for which he has been arrested were part of his life outside the church, and we have received no questions or concerns related to his conduct within the church or its ministries.
“The children’s pastor was hired two-and-a-half years ago. The church’s background check turned up no issues that indicate any previous problem. In fact, the children’s pastor in his application affirmed that he had no issues in his background of a criminal or other nature.
We are praying for his family and will continue to provide the services of our ministry to them.”
In addition, five women were arrested on prostitution charges in the sting, but the authorities have offered to help three of them leave the business.