Walton County Man 1 of 9 Arrested in Oconee County Prostitution Sting

The Oconee County Sheriff's Office and the Barrow County Sheriff's Office Thursday conducted a joint undercover operation using Backpage.com.

Nine people were taken into custody at in Oconee County Thursday, charged with pandering and prostitution following an undercover investigation by the and Barrow County Sheriff's Office. A 34-year-old Monroe man was one of the men arrested.

Undercover deputies placed multiple ads for solicitation on the free classified ads website Backpage.com. and also responded to existing ads, Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry said. Plans for the operation had been in the works for about two months, he said.

"Backpage has come to our attention lately on a couple of different cases, so we decided we'd take a look at it and see if we had an issue here in Oconee County," Berry explained. "As you can see, in a very short period of time, we made nine arrests."

"At one point, there were six people in custody in the adjoining hotel room. They just started coming in back to back to back."

The Sheriff's Office was already aware of Backpage to a limited degree, but after a recent incident where a Jefferson by a woman he met on the website, deputies "refocused efforts on it," Berry said.

A into the Gwinnett County Jail earlier in the month, accused of using the website for prostitution, as was former Gwinnett County public information.

"The sex trade industry has gone online, and that makes it difficult to track in the traditional way, so you've got to be more and more creative about how you work these types of cases," Berry explained.

The sting began around noon and wrapped by 7 p.m., he said.

"SpringHill Suites cooperated with us," he said. "They wanted to make sure they got the word out that they were not going to tolerate this in their hotel."

Berry said he was surprised by the frequency of the calls and the number of arrests.  Within five minutes of placing the ads, there were responses, he said.

"At one point, there were six people in custody in the adjoining hotel room," he said. "They just started coming in back to back to back."

The operation had to be shut down for a few minutes in order to transport those six prisoners to the truck, Berry said.

The district's attorney's office was consulted ahead of time, and in all of the cases where an arrest was made, there was an item of value exchanged for an agreed-upon sex act, he said.  One man who showed up wasn't charged because his actions didn't meet the elements of the crime, Berry said.

Arrested on charges of pandering were: Matthew Lee Becker, 27, of Athens; Myron Linwerd Harbell, 33, of Winder ; Kenneth Matthew Dean, 22, of Athens; Michael Jason Warner, 34, of Monroe; Micah D. Thorp, 26, of Athens; Rodney J. Packard, 42, of Covington; UGA employee Bobby James Stanton, 51, of Athens; and William Ashley Barnett, 39, of Washington.  Megan A. Beeman, 23, of Lawrenceville, was charged with prostitution. Bonds were set at $1,000 each.

Undercover deputies are often shared between counties on a variety of cases, he said, but using deputies from out of town was especially necessary in this case so they wouldn't be recognized.

"The safety of the undercover deputy is paramount," Berry said. "Some people tend to get really upset when they realize they're going to go to jail,  so we make it as safe as we can."

Michelle Still June 30, 2012 at 07:16 PM
That is so stupid for people to do that,they need to stay in jail
mac July 02, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Michelle its not stupid to man that cant get laid.Prostitution is legal in many places and it should be here.
Sharon Swanepoel July 02, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Mac, that might be an argument you could make on that selective enforcement debate. :) Here's the link. http://patch.com/A-vDX8
waltersg July 06, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Tobacco is worse and it's legal
Scott Woodford Price December 17, 2012 at 03:30 AM
I will tell the naive majority this. To protect and serve is propaganda. The police are an arm of the extortion racket. Organized crime runs EVERY facet of EVERY municipality county state and federal government. Forcing the working plebes to defend themselves from a corrupt govt attorney from each entity. Don't believe their tripe. They prosecute every producer to force the able the hire politically connected attorneys to defend who in turn pay the district attorney criminals for access Rodney Packard spent his life savings defending himself of trumped up charges. When he paid his connected attorney the bogus charges wre finally dropped. It destroyed Rodney's life marriage job everything. Everything he built and worked 90 hours a week for the last 15 years destroyed by a criminal government. Rodney killed himself today a few weeks after district attorney accepted bag money and dropped bogus charges Revolt you pathetic flock of sheep


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