December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Three charged in Elyria during national prostitution crackdown

Stephen Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cleveland field office, addresses the media Monday as he reports on local arrests in a nationwide child sex trafficking sweep. Behind him is Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Stephen Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cleveland field office, addresses the media Monday as he reports on local arrests in a nationwide child sex trafficking sweep. Behind him is Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — A national FBI-led week dedicated to breaking up prostitution rings made a local link Thursday when police charged two women and a man for soliciting sex online, according to police.

Ashley Elmore

Ashley Elmore

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams, 40, of Cleveland — who goes by the street name “Bay-Bay” — was charged with promoting prostitution about 1 p.m. Thursday at a hotel in Elyria. Ashley Eggers, 20, and Ashley Elmore, 19, were both issued misdemeanor citations for solicitation.

Police started investigating the two women after receiving a tip that they were soliciting sex around Elyria from a website, according to Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino. Police found the site and saw that the women were dressed in “scantily clad” clothing and were discussing money using the code word “roses,” a code often used in sex trafficking rings.

Undercover police arranged to meet Eggers and Elmore, who went by the names “Pinky Star” and “Baby Blue,” respectively, at a hotel in Elyria. When they met, the women agreed to a price of $300 for various sexual acts, Costantino said. As soon as the women accepted the money, police took them into custody and issued them citations for solicitation.

As officers were interviewing the women in the hotel room, Williams knocked on the door asking for “Pinky,” Costantino said. Police took Williams into custody and questioned all three people. The girls initially said that Williams was their driver but later added that he acted as a manager and “keeps them safe,” according to Costantino.

“He was acting in the capacity of a pimp,” Costantino said.

The women eventually admitted to trying to solicit sex for money and said that was their sole source of income.

“They were forced into prostitution because of their addictions to heroin,” Costantino said.

Thursday’s case is reminiscent of similar cases around Lorain County and nationwide.

A yearly operation led by the FBI has focused on putting a stop to cases like Eggers’ and Elmore’s. “Operation Cross-Country,” which is dedicated to investigating and arresting pimps and sex-traffickers across the country, was last week.

The operation, which saw the arrest of Williams, also saw the breakup of 13 different prostitution organizations across northern Ohio, according to the Cleveland FBI. Sixteen children between the ages of 13 and 16 were rescued from sex trafficking rings in that area, the second-highest number of children recovered in the country last week.

“If anyone is a pimp in this area … this is a bad time to do it,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty said at a news conference Monday. Over the course of the week, 12 alleged pimps were arrested, whom McGinty called “some of the most deplorable, disgusting human beings.”

Many of the investigations last week were a result of tips from citizens and investigations into Backpage.com, which prostitution rings commonly use to solicit sex, according to the FBI.

“Public awareness is critical,” Todd Wickerham of the Cleveland FBI said Monday, citing Jeremy Mack, an Elyria man who was convicted of sex trafficking this year. Police initially began investigating Mack partially because of tips from citizens.

Though the operation was only one week, Wickerham and McGinty said they and police in northern Ohio will continue to be vigilant throughout the year in finding sex-traffickers and breaking up prostitution rings.

“No one is safe anywhere,” McGinty said of people involved with sex trafficking.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.