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VOL. 127 | NO. 183 | Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Police Officer Latest Defendant in Sex Trafficking

By Bill Dries

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The latest sex trafficking case in Memphis federal court involves a Memphis police officer who allegedly brought three women into a Memphis nightclub last November and “announced the women were available as prostitutes to patrons of the nightclub.”

A week later, officer Sean McWhirter allegedly had sex with one of the women at the same nightspot “in full view of other patrons of the nightclub,” according to the affidavit in the case filed by FBI Special Agent Matthew J. Ross.

McWhirter was charged Monday, Sept. 17, with transportation of individuals in interstate commerce for the purpose of prostitution. He was arrested at a Tunica County hotel the day before when he allegedly delivered three prostitutes to a room there.

An unidentified source working with the FBI arranged the meeting and not only recorded phone calls and payoffs to McWhirter but also recorded him in the two nightclub visits in November.

The name of the nightclub is not listed in the affidavit.

U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton’s office had made sex trafficking cases a priority for federal prosecutors in the last year. He estimated the area is second or third in the nation in terms of prosecuting the crimes.

“What makes this case worse is that the alleged perpetrator is a law enforcement official who was sworn to protect and serve,” Stanton said Monday in a statement.

The “Tarnished Badge Task Force,” a police corruption unit that includes FBI agents as well as Memphis Police and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office investigators, investigated the McWhirter case.

“We will do this as often as needed in order to rid this department of those who can’t make up their minds as to whether they want to be a police officer or a thug,” said Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong.

The investigation began in May 2011 when the FBI interviewed the source who said he had seen McWhirter on and off duty at several nightclubs in Memphis where there was open prostitution and drug use.

The next month, the FBI began tracking calls to and from McWhirter’s cell phone and linked the calls to women with prostitution records who were listed on backpage.com, a website Ross said in his affidavit he encountered in other human trafficking investigations that “is commonly used as an advertisement website for prostitution.”

Last week, Marvell Antonio Culp pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion in a federal case involving a social networking site.

In late August, Laron Matlock was indicted by a Memphis federal grand jury on three counts of child sex-human trafficking.

That same week, Aricke Lester of Somerville was sentenced to 14 years in prison by U.S. District Court Judge John P. McCalla after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in child sex trafficking. As part of the plea, Lester admitted to using backpage.com to advertise a 15-year-old girl for prostitution.

In July, Maurice Mabon, a codefendant of Lester, was sentenced to 27 years in prison by McCall after a jury convicted him of child sex trafficking, attempted child sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit child sex trafficking. A third codefendant, Chauntta Lewis of Moscow, Tenn., was sentenced to four years and six months in prison after she pleaded guilty.

Also in July, Vincent Jones pleaded guilty to his role in drugging two Memphis area juveniles with Xanax and Oxycontin and advertising them as prostitutes on backpages.com.

Jones admitted he and codefendant Kala Bray physically abused the children and made them engage in numerous sex acts in Memphis and Houston.

One of the juveniles escaped from a hotel room in Houston and alerted police who went to the hotel and found the other juvenile.

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