19 News gets firsthand look at undercover human trafficking sting in Northeast Ohio

Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 10:29 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - In February, 19 News was granted exclusive access to an undercover human trafficking sting throughout Northeast Ohio; the operation led to the arrests of eight men and the discovery of 15 potential victims.

The sting, dubbed ‘Operation Fouled Out,’ was conducted the week of the NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland.

“This operation’s mission was two-fold: to arrest johns soliciting sex and to proactively encounter potential victims,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said. “Our task reinforced both the consequences for buying sex and the pathways available for victims to find a way out.”

The sting was led by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Human Trafficking Task Force, which includes officers from several agencies.

Part of the investigation is to target men trying to pay for sex, referred to as “Johns.”

On February 17th, eight men were issued citations after responding to online ads for sex.

The posts were created by undercover agents, offering sex in exchange for money at a Middleburg Heights motel. Many of the men brought the agreed amount of cash with them.

One brought a 12-pack of alcoholic iced tea.

Some of them acknowledged wrongdoing, but all pleaded not guilty in Berea Municipal Court earlier this month.

While the debate over the legality of prostitution still exists, members of the task force are quick to point out this isn’t as simple as a consensual agreement.

“There’s always a victim,” said Detective John Morgan. “Whether someone says, ‘Oh this girl wants to be out here doing this.’ Well, does she want to be out there doing it or does she have to be out there doing it?”

The unit does encounter women claiming to be independent providers, making a conscious decision to offer sex for money.

They’ve also found that many of the women are addicted to drugs and are using prostitution to fuel their addiction.

“We try to talk them into leaving the life. But with some of these adult women addicted to a drug, whether that’s heroin or whatever, it’s very difficult for them to make that choice at that time,” Morgan said.

The majority of the men arrested in this sting claimed to have little understanding of the human trafficking problem; that many women are under the control of someone else, forced to engage in sexual activity and turn over the money to someone else.

“If it weren’t for these Johns helping to perpetuate the cycle, the demand side of this, then there wouldn’t be so many girls out there doing this,” Det. Morgan said.

This is part one of a three-part series on human trafficking; parts two and three air Thursday and Friday night on 19 News at 11:00 p.m.


  • Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Task Force 24-Hour Hotline: 216-443-6085

The Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force partners with the following agencies for victim advocacy; if you or anyone you know is involved in Human Trafficking, these organizations can help.

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