The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced on Friday that it had arrested 32 people for human trafficking in Knoxville. Two of the men arrested in the undercover operation were church pastors.
WBIR reports that the men were arrested during the TBI’s “Operation Someone Like Me” sting, which involved the placement of ads claiming to offer sex with women under the age of 18. Jason Kennedy, one of the men charged, was a children’s minister at Grace Baptist Church in Karns, Tennessee. The church fired him soon after his charges were announced.
Grace Baptist released the following statement on Friday:
‘The children’s pastor of Grace Baptist Church has been terminated as as 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.’
The second man charged was a “creative pastor” at Lifehouse Church in Oakridge named Zubin Parakh. He was a volunteer at the church working his way up to becoming a full-time pastor. He was arrested after he responded to an online ad placed by the TBI operation, in which he agreed to pay $100 for sex with a 17-year-old. Lifehouse claims that Parakh never worked with children during his services.
Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking spokeswoman Kate Trudell released this statement after the sting operation had ended:
‘We are grateful for our relationship that we have with the TBI, and other agencies in our area.
In order to truly put an end to human trafficking in our community we must eradicate the demand. This crime is grossly protected by stereotypes that tell us it happens to certain people in certain places, and many of like to believe that those people and those places are not here in Knoxville, Tenn., but folks, unfortunately, they are. This is happening right here.’
Both churches have reacted with shock to the charges. Senior Pastor Ron Stewart of Grace Baptist stated the following, indicating he had never heard of anything like this in his 28 years at the church:
‘Jason was a guy that talked so much about his wife and how much he loved her, and she talked about how she loved him and their three children. I mean, they were a great family.’
WATE covered the story as well with the following report:
Featured image via WBIR