COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A firefighter with the Columbus Division of Fire was among those charged in a human trafficking operation carried out by Ohio law enforcement.  

Attorney General David Yost, who was joined by law enforcement from Franklin, Montgomery, Portage, and other counties in the state, announced there were 161 men arrested for attempting to buy sex during the “Ohio Knows” operation.

One of those arrested was a Columbus firefighter who pleaded guilty in January 2022 to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct.      

A statement from the Columbus Division of Fire read:

We have been made aware of criminal allegations against one of our members.  The Division of Fire works very hard to make sure the women and men we employ are trusted without question by the public we serve when we respond to calls for assistance.  The charges against this firefighter are disappointing and not acceptable by our division standards.   The member named will be given due process through the criminal court system as well as face an administrative investigation to determine rules and regulations violations.  Any division charges or discipline will be a result of that investigation.

“This is not something that just happens down in the hood, in the city,” said Yost. “It’s in every county. It’s in every town. This is happening all over Ohio. Poor neighborhoods, rich neighborhoods, educated, uneducated, black, white, it doesn’t matter, it happens everywhere.” 

Yost said three of the men arrested during the operation thought they were buying sex with a child.

Fifty individuals offering to sell sex – men and women – were arrested, according to Yost’s office. Law enforcement officers interviewed 51 potential human trafficking victims, who were provided services from health care and social services organizations.

Mandie Knight is a human trafficking survivor who credits law enforcement with helping her escape from that life.

“Had I not been arrested, had I not went to jail, had I not suffered some consequences for my actions, and the role that I played in the decisions I was making, I wouldn’t be here today and I wouldn’t be as successful in life as I am today,” she said Monday.

A simultaneous operation carried out by the U.S. Marshals Service recovered 10 missing children, nine of whom were identified as teenagers.

This was the largest human trafficking operation in the state, to date, according to Yost, and also among those arrested were a city council member, a teacher, a professor, a pilot, and a man with a 2-year-old child in his vehicle.   

“We want to send a message to everybody in Ohio, everybody in the country: Don’t buy sex in Ohio,” Yost said.

Columbus police posted late Monday that its Police and Community Together (PACT) unit was responsible for arresting 52 of the 161 men arrested statewide, including the suspect who had a child in his vehicle.

The unit also reported recovering multiple guns and a missing child.