8 busted in Tri-City sex trafficking sting

Edward L. Nelson, 28, appears Monday via a video link in Franklin County Superior Court with attorney Michael Quillen, right.
Edward L. Nelson, 28, appears Monday via a video link in Franklin County Superior Court with attorney Michael Quillen, right. Tri-City Herald

Two men and six women were arrested Sunday night in a Pasco police crackdown on prostitution and sex trafficking.

Efrain Gonzalez, 26, and Edward L. Nelson, 28, both were locked up on suspicion of second-degree promoting prostitution, a felony.

The allegation means they either profited from the prostitution services of another person or aided in the crime being committed, like driving a person to a location knowing it was for prostitution.

Gonzalez, who lives in the Tri-Cities, and Nelson of Kent appeared Monday afternoon in Franklin County Superior Court.

Judge Jackie Shea Brown set bail at $4,500 each. Prosecutors have until Wednesday to file charges or release them.

While six Tri-City area women were arrested in the sting, police cautioned that they may be victims of sex trafficking.

Efrain Gonzalez prelim
Efrain Gonzalez, 26, makes his preliminary appearance via a video link in Franklin County Superior Court with attorney Michael Quillen, right. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Four of the women — all in their 20s — were picked up on investigative holds for misdemeanor prostitution.

The two other women, while also suspected of prostitution, were arrested on felony drug charges, said Detective Sgt. Bill Parramore.

The 8-hour operation was led by the Pasco police Street Crimes Unit with help from the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office. Police asked for advocates with the Support, Advocacy & Resource Center, or SARC, to be available.

Parramore wouldn’t go into detail about how the sting was conducted, but said an undercover officer was involved.

His team tries to do at least one or two similar operations a year, he said.

Parramore said there are more interviews to be done by Detective Jasen McClintock, who’s trained in working with sex trafficking victims, in tandem with SARC resource center advocates to determine if the women were being trafficked or were choosing to prostitute themselves.

Tricia MacFarlan, executive director of Mirror Ministries, discusses tactics her group is using to combat sex trafficking in the Tri-Cities.

Investigators also are trying to finish search warrants on all the vehicles related to the sting, he said.

JoDee Garretson, SARC’s executive director, said the Richland-based agency was pleased that police thought to include victim services in the operation.

The Support, Advocacy & Resource Center provides around-the-clock crisis services, support and advocacy to survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking and their relatives in Benton and Franklin counties.

Since May 2017, the agency has had 126 new clients all related to sex trafficking. Of those new clients, 46 percent are teenagers.

Advocates currently are working with sex-trafficking survivors from age 2 to the early 60s, she said.

Garretson said it is a larger problem in the area than they anticipated, and the agency is in need of more staff to keep up with the demand.

“It’s just surprising to learn what is actually happening and important for people to understand,” she said.

Sex trafficking, like prostitution, involves the exchange of something of value for a sexual act.

The difference is that with adults, there needs to be force, fraud or coercion to qualify as sex trafficking, Garretson said.

Juveniles under 18 don’t have that requirement because, even if a teen agrees to sex with an adult for money, they cannot legally consent because of their age.

People who need help with an abuse situation can call the hotline at 509-374-5391.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer