COLUMBIANA — More than a dozen people have been charged since March in Columbiana county courts with human trafficking or other sex-related crimes, many involving children.
Six of those cases reached the county Common Pleas Court in just the past two weeks, records show.
The recent uptick in sex crime enforcement in the county isn’t related to a sting or other targeted enforcement, said Columbiana County assistant Prosecutor Steven Yacovone. And there’s nothing linking the suspects, nor is there any sort of criminal pattern, he said.
“Clearly, these people are out there and we have been able to put some more resources into focusing on these types of crimes,” he said. “We always get cases like this. We have been getting a larger uptick in the last couple of months.”
Those charged in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court since March include:
- Howard P. Sweitzer of Oil City, Pa., charged July 9 with compelling prostitution, importuning and possessing criminal tools
- Jay Thomas Kelly of Hanoverton, charged July 7 with compelling prostitution, importuning, possessing criminal tools, soliciting;
- Randy L. Fennell of Vandergrift, Pa., charged July 2 with compelling prostitution and possessing criminal tools;
- Daniel J. Evans of Jefferson, charged June 25 with compelling prostitution and possessing criminal tools;
- Bruce J. Crawford of Garrettsville, charged June 25 with compelling prostitution and possessing criminal tools;
- Paul Joseph Schrag of Toledo, charged June 25 with importuning, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, possessing criminal tools and attempted theft;
- Kenneth James Smart of Ellwood City, Pa., charged June 21 with importuning, possessing criminal tools, obstructing official business and criminal trespass;
- Anthony Christopher Smith of Salem, charged June 11 with illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, importuning and other charges;
- Chad Robert Ryan of Dover, charged May 18 with compelling prostitution, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning, soliciting and possessing criminal tools;
- Garett R. Anderson of Leetonia, charged May 12 with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and sexual imposition;
- Anthony William Borntreger of Lisbon, charged May 12 with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and gross sexual imposition;
- David C. Brownlee Jr. of Cleveland, charged March 30 with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning and obstructing official business;
- Alexzander Christopher Jones of Salem, charged March 11 with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning, disseminating matter harmful to juveniles and tampering with evidence.
None of the cases have been adjudicated, though some have upcoming court dates. All those who have already appeared before a county Common Pleas Court judge have pleaded not guilty.
“I take pride in prosecuting these types of cases. Everyone in our office does,” Yacovone said. “When [county Prosecutor Vito Abruzzino] took over, he wanted to make an effort to protect the kids in Columbiana and I think this is a big step toward that.”
County authorities work closely with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, which is coordinated by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office but whose members include full- and part-time lawmen from Youngstown and Austintown police departments, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and various other agencies. They scan various social media platforms for predators, Mahoning County Sheriff Greene said.
“It’s become an active art of trolling for these kinds of thugs on the internet,” he said.
One of the sheriff’s office’s newest recruits has been a huge asset, Greene said: A black Labrador retriever named Bubba who’s trained to sniff out electronics like hidden thumb drives, which offenders typically use to store child pornography. The dog recently found such a device that human officers missed during a vehicle search, he said.
Electronics-sniffing dogs are trained to sense a specific chemical that’s sprayed on electronics to keep them cool, Greene said. Those types of police dogs are rewarded with quick mealtimes, rather than play toys like those used to reward bomb or drug dogs, he added.
“I’d like to say we’re making a dent. … “It’s an unfortunate reality that those individuals are still out there continuously looking to prey upon underage girls and boys,” Greene said.
“We’re going to continue doing investigations on this type of criminal behavior and we’re not going anywhere.”