9 men, woman arrested after authorities conduct human trafficking operation, officials say

TENNESSEE — Local authorities have arrested nine men and a woman on charges relating to human trafficking in the Mid-South.

The Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation joined together to create an operation to arrest men involved in human trafficking.

PHOTOS: Men arrested after authorities conduct human trafficking operation, officials say

Undercover officers posed as 16-year-old prostitutes via text messages. According to records, the suspects arrested are Nathan Durham, Doubse Edwards, Lironda Knighten, Cortez Holloway, Mark Pitts, Thomas Riedmaier, Steven Scrogglins, Patrick Watt, Anthony Wolfe, and Chelsea Bandy.

Michael Collins, a retired lieutenant with the Shelby Co. Sheriff’s Department, said some operations take time, but sometimes, they’re forced to move quickly so the targets don’t get suspicious.

“I doubt it was more than a few days from the inception until the actual arrests, it probably was a matter of days,” said Collins.

Collins said making sure the age is mentioned from the very beginning is important for the criminal case, to show intent.

“They’ll take on a persona of a person that is underage, they make It clear the age of the person is included so when the suspect engages in this, he already know this person is a minor or they anticipate that person will be a minor,” said Collins.

Nathan Durham

Officers responded on Jan. 21 to a commercial sex call to a location where a member of the Memphis Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and TBI Human Trafficking Task Force conducted a sex trafficking operation.

Durham communicated over the internet and via text message with two undercover officers, posing as 16-year-old prostitutes, for sexual intercourse, according to an affidavit.

He met both UC’s at the location where the agents told Durham they were teens and they engaged in conversation and the suspect asked for unprotected sex and oral sex in exchange for $80 cash, the affidavit said.

He presented and gave the officers a $100 bill and was then arrested.

Durham also had a clear plastic bag filled with a green leafy substance, which later tested positive for THC, three guns and over $800 that was seized.

He is charged with two counts of trafficking for sexual servitude, possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute or sell, and unlawful possession of a firearm. He is due in court on Jan. 24. He is out on bond.

Patrick Watt

On Jan. 22, officials with MPD and TBI’s joint operation regarding human trafficking responded to a location where undercover agents were posing as 16-year-old prostitutes.

Watt contacted the UC agents and agreed to meet even though the agents said they were 16 and agreed on the performance of sexual acts for $80, police said.

Officers took Watt into custody without incident.

He gave an audio-recorded statement and admitted to making contact, then agreeing to meet and have sex with a 16-year-old prostitute, an affidavit said.

Officials also found a handgun in Watt’s car.

Watt is charged with trafficking for sexual servitude and is due in court on Jan. 25. He is out on bond.

Doubse Edwards

On Jan. 21, MPD and TBI were working the joint operation regarding human trafficking when Edwards made contact with UC agents posing as 16-year-old prostitutes.

A UC agent told Edwards she was 16-years-old and he continued the agreement with the agent to meet and have any sexual intercourse with both 16-year-old prostitutes for $80, an affidavit said.

Officers with Memphis Police Organized Crime Unit, TBI and other authorities took Edwards into custody without incident.

According to an affidavit, Edwards verbally waived his rights and gave an audio-recorded statement.

Detectives located three clear plastic bags in his possession. One contained a white powdery substance, which later tested positive for cocaine. Another one contained a white rock-like substance, which later tested positive for crack cocaine. The last bag contained a crystal-like substance, which later tested positive for methamphetamine, the affidavit said.

Edwards also had over $4,000 in cash.

He is charged with two counts of trafficking for a commercial sex act, possession of cocaine with intent to manufacture, sell or distribute and unlawful possession of a controlled substance. He is due in court on Jan. 24 and is out on bond.

Lironda Denell Knighten

Officers responded on Jan. 21 to a commercial sex call to a location where a member of the Memphis Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and TBI Human Trafficking Task Force conducted a sex trafficking operation.

The law enforcement agents used undercover agents to pose as 16-year-old prostitutes.

Knighten made contact with the undercover agent, to meet and have sexual contact, an affidavit said.

According to authorities, Knighten mentioned that it was his birthday, and wanted to “smoke and f***”.

Officers took Knighten into custody without incident.

According to records, officers recovered a clear plastic bag with a green leafy substance, a brown cigar wrapper used to smoke marijuana, plus marijuana residue and a gun on Knighten.

He is charged with two counts of trafficking for sexual servitude, possessing a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, unlawful possession of a weapon, manufacturing/delivering/selling a controlled substance, according to records.

He is due in court on Jan. 24 and he is out on bond.

Thomas Riedmaier

Officers responded on Jan. 21 to a commercial sex call at a location where members of the Memphis Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and TBI Human Trafficking Task Force conducted a sex trafficking operation.

The law enforcement agents used undercover agents to pose as 16-year-old prostitutes.

Thomas Riedmaier responded to an online advertisement from the undercover agent.

Riedmaier received the address and agreed to meet and exchange money for sexual services.

When Riedmaier arrived at the room, there were two women who he believed to be 16-years-old.

He is charged with one count of trafficking for solicitation of a minor and trafficking for sexual servitude. He is due in court on Jan. 24.

Mark Pitts

He has been charged with two counts of trafficking for commercial sex acts.

Cortez Holloway

He has been charged with one count of promoting prostitution.

Holloway was arrested alongside Chelsea Bandy. Bandy was arrested the same day as Holloway for prostitution after meeting with undercover agents at a local hotel for sexual acts, an affidavit said.

According to officials, Holloway dropped Bandy off and stated to agents he sets up Bandy’s meetings through websites known for prostitution.

Steven Scroggins

He has been charged with two counts of trafficking for commercial sexual acts, and one count of possession of methamphetamine.

Anthony Wolfe

He has been charged with one count of trafficking for commercial sexual acts.

The nine arrests also brought in six weapons, nine vehicles, and thousands of dollars in cash and drugs, TBI said.

Collins said once state lines are crossed, it becomes a federal case.

“The essence of why these particular operations are necessary is because it is a problem. There are young ladies out there that are actual underage prostitutes, and we have to curb that particular crime by attacking the people that are supporting that type of activity for a minor,” said Collins.

All nine men were taken to Shelby County Jail and will have court dates throughout this week.