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Sheriff to potential sexual predators: 'You might be talking to one of us'

More than 50 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies collaborated on the latest underage online sting, which resulted in 177 arrests statewide. Fourteen were from the Valley, including a person listed as pastor from a New Castle, Pa., church.

COLUMBUS — The latest in a series of underage online sex stings in the Mahoning Valley last week rounded up 14 suspected human traffickers, state and local officials announced Monday.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Monday said Operation Autumn Hope is believed to be "the largest anti-human trafficking bust" in state history. More than 50 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies collaborated on the sting, which resulted in 177 arrests statewide.

The operation also rescued 109 human trafficking survivors who were referred to social services, like the Cleveland Rape Center, Yost said. It also resolved another 76 cases of missing or exploited children, 45 of whom were physically recovered by U.S. Marshals, according to the Marshals’ office.

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said his office, the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and a multitude of other local and state agencies collaborated on 14 arrests in the area between Tuesday and Thursday of last week.

Greene told Mahoning Matters Monday the statewide collaborative effort is “basically a full-court press” on human trafficking. Local task force officers logged into online chat rooms and posed as underage users to lure predators, he said.

"Really, our message is quite clear: If you're using the internet to try to exploit or take advantage of underage individuals, we want it to be in the back of your head that you might be talking to one of us," Greene said.

Here’s a list of the local arrests:

John F. Kukura, 37, of Youngstown

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Matthew Zanni, 20, of Struthers

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Donald L. Lee, 44, of Akron

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

John M. Harmocy, 37, of Mineral Ridge

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Nathan Lucas, 36, of Hermitage, Pa.

  • An unspecified attempted felony charge
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Jarod Mills, 33, of New Castle, Pa.

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools
  • Felony displaying matter harmful to juveniles

Jason Walker, 39, of Salem

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Jeffrey P. Cornelius, 33, of Youngstown

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Bashar Abuzant, 30, of Youngstown

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Apostolos Sisalouis, 40, of Campbell

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Eric Jones AKA Eric Metansignh, 30, of Youngstown

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Sam Lay, 31, of Boardman

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Dwayne Sellers Jr., 29, of Youngstown

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

Youssef Jabaly, 27, of Sylvania

  • Felony attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor
  • Felony importuning or soliciting of an adolescent
  • Felony possessing criminal tools

All those suspects have arraignments or preliminary hearings scheduled for Friday or Nov. 20, according to court records. Most have already posted unspecified amounts in bond and been released, according to court records, with the highest-reported bond set at $14,500.

Greene said Monday he’s not concerned the suspects will flee prosecution, though he recalled one suspect in a previous underage sex sting — an international student who fled back to his home country of Saudi Arabia.

The 14 suspects arrested by Mahoning’s task force and the eight arrested by Franklin County authorities include students, a rehabilitation resident advisor and a pastor, according to a release from the AG’s office.

Mills is listed as the pastor of Clifton Flats Alliance Church in New Castle, Pa., according to the church’s website and Facebook page. His pastor job was first reported by WKBN.

Two of the phones confiscated from suspects during the operation were found to contain child pornography, Greene said.

The sheriff, speaking later with Mahoning Matters, said parents should urge their children to make friends in physical space, rather than the virtual.

“All parents, when it comes to situations like this, need to have a talk with their children about chatting with people online that they don’t know,” he said. “They really need to focus on meeting new friends in-person.”

Seeking justice

This is the fourth time Greene's office has conducted such a sting in the area, he said. Three previous operations — dubbed “Pedo Cure” — have nabbed dozens of online child predators.

Defendants in the most recent “Pedo Cure III” operation have all since been adjudicated. All took plea deals.

About half of those arrested got prison terms ranging between 6 months and 18 months, followed by mandatory five-year probationary periods.

Andrew Wirth, formerly of Ravenna but now a Lorain prison inmate, received an 18-month sentence. That sentence, however, was later superseded when he was caught again by local undercover agents in the exact same way while free on bond, as reported by WKBN. He’s currently serving six years in prison on charges of attempted sexual battery and compelling prostitution, among others.

Another predator, Grant Geib, was granted judicial release in May, after serving three months of a six-month sentence, court records show. Others were ordered to jail on weekends, served brief, three- to 10-day jail terms or as much as 90 days in jail.

The other half taken down in Pedo Cure III received probationary sentences ranging from a total 6½ years to 10 years, including their mandatory post-release probation periods.

Nearly all were made to register as Tier II sex offenders, compelling them to report to authorities at least twice a year for 25 years. Others became Tier I sex offenders, who report less frequently.

“We just know there are a lot of predators out there using the internet for their own deviant purposes,” Greene said. “Most of us have children and when we put together an operation like this and have the amount arrested we do — it’s just very satisfying.

“Sometimes they don’t get the long sentences that we may want, however, they’re all labeled sexual offenders and have to register. At least there’s an eye on them from now on.”



Justin Dennis

About the Author: Justin Dennis

Justin Dennis has been on the beat since 2011, covering crime, courts and public education. Dennis grew up in Poland and Salem and studied journalism and communications at Cleveland State University and University of Pittsburgh.
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