COOKEVILLE — A 20-year-old Robbins man was one of eight people implicated in a prostitution bust here last week.
Bobby McGill, 20, of Robbins was arrested by Cookeville Police Department detectives on Thursday amid what the law enforcement agency described as a “human trafficking sting.”
While the police department described the arrests as being part of a human trafficking sting, McGill was charged with patronizing prostitution, a Class A misdemeanor.
Others charged in the investigation were Joshua T. Meadows, 33, of Cookeville; Kevin Lael Arber, 58, of Nashville; Sam Barrera, 20, of Gainesboro; Timothy Howell, 52, of Jamestown; Matthew Kerney, 45, of Byrdstown; and Michael Custer, 59, of Lebanon. All were charged with patronizing prostitution. Additionally, Amanda Marie Conley, 38, of Cookeville was charged with prostitution, a Class B misdemeanor.
The Cookeville Herald-Citizen quoted the police department as saying, “Undercover detectives and officers posed as patrons who were willing to solicit or hire other individuals with the intent to engage in sexual activity. The goal of this investigation was to attempt to locate anyone being exploited into the sex trade.”
The police department did not state whether any victims were located, but did clarify that no underage victims were identified.
Thursday’s sting was not the first in Cookeville. Exactly one year earlier, 10 people were charged in the city — which is home to Tennessee Tech University — after TBI agents posed as underage prostitutes. Each of those suspects were charged with patronizing prostitution after allegedly responding to ads that had been placed on backpage.com by agents posing as girls aged 14 to 17. At that time, Cookeville Police Chief Randy Evans said, “As significant as these arrests are, we are only scratching the surface. It is incumbent upon us to remain vigilant, and pursue and prosecute human trafficking across the state, as we all continue to battle this heinous crime.”
The description of prostitution as “sex trafficking” in Tennessee dates to a change in the way local and state law enforcement agencies have combatted the issue since 2017. While the TBI has acknowledged that it has received criticism for the changes in its terminology, the agency has also said prostitutes are often victims rather than criminals, and that demand for prostitution is driving human trafficking. As part of the new approach, the state legislature passed a law two years ago that beefs up penalties for soliciting prostitution. As a Class A misdemeanor, a patronizing prostitution conviction can mean up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, and a fine of up to $2,500.
Thanks in part to the efforts of former U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the United States’ human trafficking issue has been exposed in recent years. According to statistics from the TBI, a child is bought or sold for sex every two minutes in the U.S., and the average age of a child sold for sex is 13 years old.