Human Trafficking Suspects

Seven men were arrested on Feb 28-29 after undercover LMPD detectives from the Special Victims Unit posed as 16-year-old girls online. It was part of a 2-day sting called "Operation Bright Light." 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Seven men were recently arrested as a result of an LMPD uncover, online human trafficking sting.

During a news conference on March 2, Louisville Metro Police Detective Kris Pedigo discussed details of the two-day sting, dubbed "Operation Bright Light" because "this is a very dark and heinous crime." 

Pedigo says three of the defendants are from Louisville, one was from Shepherdsville, and one was from Jeffersonville, Indiana. He says two of the men "traveled over an hour just to get to Louisville."

All seven were arrested when undercover detectives posed as minors online during this sting from Feb. 28-29. According to LMPD, the first four men arrested — Amos Brown, Jeffrey Stults, Richard Tong and Bradley Martin — each responded to separate ads to pay for sex acts, from someone they believed to be a 16-year-old girl, and agreed to meet. They were arrested without incident at a Louisville hotel when they showed up at the  hotel room. 

Blake Jeffries, Edward Phillips and Fabio Arguello were arrested at the same hotel the following day. Pedigo says the men answered six online ads posted by undercover detectives. All are charged with promoting human trafficking with a victim under 18. Pedigo says the ads received 115 responses, resulting in the arrests. 

"Once the communication started, once we had people responding to those ads, that's when we mentioned that the victim -- or the person they were coming to see -- was 16," Pedigo said. "And that was very important for us to address, especially later, once we get into the prosecution of these individuals."

Some people who responded to the ads decided not to go through with the meeting after learning the person was 16 years old. Pedigo says most of the men have steady jobs, and all but one is married. "The biggest shock to my senses was they were all dads," Pedigo said. "And a few of them were fathers of daughters."

He added: "it's a good thing we were so successful with this operation."

Pedigo says it's important for residents to speak up anytime they suspect human trafficking. "If you see something that doesn't seem right, or doesn't feel right, just make a phone call." 

Including Pedigo, there are six detectives in the LMPD Sex Crimes Unit. The number is 502-574-7672. 

In court Monday, three of the men were ordered to have no contact with minors. Arguello's attorney argued that he is a mentor at the Backside Learning Center at Churchill Downs, and asked the judge to allow Arguello to continue to have supervised contact with minors. The judge turned down that request. 

The executive director of the learning center quickly released a statement Monday morning saying in part that Arguello's alleged actions "violate the values, ethics, and mission of the Backside Learning Center."

The full statement from executive director Sherry Stanley appears below:

"Immediately upon hearing news of Mr. Arguello's arrest, the Board of the Backside Learning Center began actions to remove him from the board.  His alleged actions violate the values, ethics and mission of the Backside Learning Center.  We remain committed to building community and enriching the lives of equine workers and their families, which includes efforts to prevent child abuse and create a safer community."   

In a phone call, Backside Learning Center also further clarified that Arguello has never served as a mentor for kids in his capacity as a board member. 

Denise Reyes who has worked in the horse industry for 20 years, says she knew Arguello. "I was just so shocked," Reyes said. "I'm sure a lot of people who know him and have worked with him are totally shocked to see his picture on there today."

Arguello's picture on the center's website was taken down on March 2. 

Phillips is facing an additional charge of third-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. According to his arrest report, officers found him in possession of a counterfeit $100 bill.

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