Note: This story was last updated at 2:30 p.m. May 23.
A three-day operation by special agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and detectives with the Knoxville Police Department to combat human trafficking in Knoxville has resulted in the arrest of 32 men and women on prostitution and human trafficking-related charges. Two of the men, including a children’s minister, responded to ads for what they thought were girls under the age of 18.
TBI identified Knoxville’s Jason Kennedy, 46, as the children’s minister arrested for patronizing prostitution and human trafficking. Kennedy was a minister at Grace Baptist Church in Karns, but he has now been terminated.
The TBI said there is a warrant out on a trafficking charge for Zubin Parakh, 32, of Oak Ridge. A spokesperson at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge said Parakh serves as a volunteer and “creative pastor” there, according to WBIR, a Knoxville television station. The church told the television station that Parakh has never worked with children.
Grace Baptist released a statement to the media after the Friday news of Kennedy’s arrest.
“The children’s pastor of Grace Baptist Church has been terminated as as result of an arrest in a police sting related to prostitution and human trafficking,” the church said. “The actions of the children’s pastor for which he has been arrested were part of his life outside the church, and we have received no questions or concerns related to his conduct within the church or its ministries.
“The children’s pastor was hired two-and-a-half years ago. The church’s background check turned up no issues that indicate any previous problem. In fact, the children’s pastor in his application affirmed that he had no issues in his background of a criminal or other nature.
“We are praying for his family and will continue to provide the services of our ministry to them.”
Oak Ridge Today has not been able to reach LifeHouse Church for comment.
The TBI said the arrested men also include an engineer and a volunteer firefighter.
Kennedy has been charged and booked. Most of the others were charged on a citation, the TBI said. [Read more…]