The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has released the names of 32 men and women who were arrested in an undercover sting targeting a human trafficking and prostitution operation that preyed upon the residents of Knoxville.

Among those arrested in “Operation Someone Like Me”: A volunteer firefighter, an engineer — and two church pastors who responded to online ads for what they thought were for girls under the age of 18, according to the TBI.

One of the pastors netted in the three-day sting was the leader of the children’s ministry at Grace Baptist Church. That man, identified as 46-year-old Jason Kennedy, was charged last week with patronizing prostitution and trafficking and has since been fired by his church.

“We are held to a higher standard,” Grace Baptist’s senior pastor Ron Stewart told CBS affiliate WVLT, adding: “He did it, but it’s like a tsunami that can cover a whole island. His tsunami has come across our whole church.”

The other pastor arrested by the TBI was identified as 32-year-old Zubin Parakh, who is associated with Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge, Tenn., according to NBC affiliate WBIR. A church spokesperson told the station that Parakh had never worked with children, but had volunteered as “creative pastor.” The spokesman noted that Parakh was in the process of become an official pastor.

Parakh was also charged with patronizing prostitution and trafficking.

During the three-day operation, undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com, making contact with 300 people, according to the TBI. An ad in which agents posed as a juvenile girl received more than two dozen contacts, the agency said. The operation, the TBI said, was “designed to identify and help victims of trafficking, as well as take these predators off the street.”

“Finding these people who are trying to buy Tennessee children is a priority for us,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn said in a statement. “We want anyone responding to these ads to think there may be a TBI Agent on the other end of it. We will do whatever we can to make a difference in reducing the human trafficking that takes place in Tennessee.”

Said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch: “Human trafficking is a scourge on society. We will continue to commit all the necessary resources and work alongside our law enforcement partners to help protect our most precious resource, our children.”

People who know Kennedy, the former children’s minister, were shocked to learn about his alleged behavior.

“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,” Stewart, Grace Baptist’s senior pastor, told WBIR. “I mean, they were a great family.”

Stewart told the station that nobody from the church has stepped forward to report inappropriate activity involving Kennedy, who was hired 2 1/2 years ago and underwent a background check that, the church said, “turned up no issues.”

“The actions of the children’s pastor for which he has been arrested were part of his life outside the church,” a Grace Baptist statement read. “We have received no questions or concerns related to his conduct within the church or its ministries.”

Stewart told CBS affiliate WVLT that the church has 78 security cameras to ensure its members’ safety.

“There’s some people that are going to be very angry, they are angry; I understand that,” Stewart told WBIR. “Forgiveness is something that’s a process, you have to work through it. I feel pity for Jason, but I also understand that when you make decisions and choices, there are consequences. He made his choices and he will face his consequences.

“We are not sorry he got caught. We are sorry that he did what he did.”

On Sunday, Stewart addressed his congregation about Kennedy’s arrest and told his followers that he felt betrayed, WVLT reported.

The TBI announced that the undercover operation conducted this month “also identified potential victims of trafficking” — women who were offered services including housing, counseling and addiction treatment. “Three women took advantage of those services and left the operation and were immediately placed in safe houses,” the TBI said.

Source: ‘His tsunami has come across our whole church’: Child sex sting nets two Tenn. pastors – The Washington Post

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