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More than 100 human trafficking victims rescued in Ohio joint operation

Operation Autumn Hope brought together more than 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government organizations.
Published: Oct. 26, 2020 at 10:56 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVG) - More than 100 victims of human trafficking have been rescued and referred to social services following a massive, statewide joint venture by federal and local law enforcement officers.

Operation Autumn Hope was coordinated out of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s Organized Crime Investigations Commission and brought together more than 50 law enforcement agencies and non-government organizations. Yost was joined by several members of that task force to announce the results of the operation during a press conference on Monday.

Ohio Anti-Human Trafficking

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announces results from a statewide anti-human trafficking campaign.

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“These vulnerable members of our population usually slip through the cracks,” said Sgt. Dana Hess, director of the Central Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. “This operation highlighted the vast number of potential victims and allowed law enforcement the opportunity to make contact and link them to services.”

According to AG Yost, 177 arrests were made over the course of the operation, with a majority of those arrests coming from Cuyahoga, Franklin, and Lucas Counties, where 157 men were arrested on charges of solicitation, among other criminal charges. A reported 22 individuals were arrested for seeking to have sex with minors. Yost called it the largest anti-human trafficking operation in the history of Ohio.

“The success of Operation Autumn Hope is measured not only in the number of arrests but in the lives that were rescued from this evil,” Yost said. “Every agency on this team looks for the day when no person is bought and sold in Ohio. Don’t buy sex in Ohio.”

According to Toledo Police, seven people were arrested during the operation. Tony Lehman was arrested for public indecency. Four people were arrested for soliciting from a motor vehicle -- Ernest Davis, Harold Stoll, Ronnie Nash, and Michael O’Dell. Sarah Barber was arrested for soliciting. Kristal Morales was arrested for soliciting and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Operation Autumn Hope helped recover 109 survivors of human trafficking. (Image from the Ohio...
Operation Autumn Hope helped recover 109 survivors of human trafficking. (Image from the Ohio Attorney General's office)(WTVG)

In addition to those arrests, the task force announced it had cleared 76 missing and exploited children cases, including 45 physical recoveries by the U.S. Marshal’s Service.

“My thanks to all personnel who have stepped up for this operation,” said Peter C. Tobin, U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio. “These are the same personnel who hunt down violent fugitives every day. I’m incredibly proud of them and pleased that they were able to apply those same skills to finding missing children. I know Operation Autumn Hope has made a difference in a lot of young lives.”

For resources on reporting human trafficking, visit the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition’s website.

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