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Ohio's Largest Human Trafficking Sting Nets 177 Arrests, 109 Survivors

Dave Yost speaks at the Ohio Republican Party event, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. Yost was elected as the next Ohio attorney general.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
Attorney General Dave Yost speaks at a press conference in 2018.

Around 50 law enforcement agencies have arrested 177 people and found 109 survivors in what’s considered the largest human trafficking sting ever in Ohio.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said Operation Autumn Hope brought in federal, state and local law enforcement to rescue survivors, recover missing kids, catch people seeking sex with minors – usually considered rape – and arresting men seeking to buy sex.

Yost says the problem is still a serious one, with traffickers moving through Ohio and what he calls homegrown operations.

“We’ve been doing these human trafficking stings for a while now, and yet, we don’t have any diminution of demand," Yost says.

Forty-five of the 109 survivors rescued were children. The operation did not include the recent indictment of former Portsmouth city councilmember Michael Mearan, who’s accused of 18 felony charges related to another human trafficking investigation.

Yost clarified that Operation Autumn Hope had nothing to do with QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory involving pedophiles, celebrities and Satanism. QAnon promoters, who strongly support President Trump, have also have been holding rallies and posting on social media under the banner of “save the children."

Yost says QAnon is “a conflation of miscellaneous facts and wild imagination” and that it’s unsupported and “doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.” He says he’s never been involved in an operation where QAnon interfered or played a role, and added that it's a hindrance.

“It’s simply that the flow of information, the reporting of observations can be skewed from the general public,” he said.

Other experts on human trafficking have said the hijacking of the concerns about missing and exploited children by QAnon could derail the work they’re doing.