KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The pastor of Grace Baptist Church said he is shocked after a children’s pastor at the church was charged for patronizing prostitution and trafficking.
Ron Stewart, the Senior Pastor at Grace Baptist Church said he found out about child youth pastor Jason Kennedy’s arrest when he got a phone call from a friend that knew about the situation that was taking place. Court records say Kennedy negotiated a $100 fee for a half hour of sex with a 15 and 18-year-old girl.
“I was devastated, I was totally shocked. It is something you can not anticipate, in fact I speak about it constantly,” said Stewart. “I have nine other pastors and I speak to them constantly, ‘we are held to a higher standard and what someone else may do and be accepted is not accepted and anything you do will be magnified and we understand much is given, much is required.’ It goes with being a pastor.”
During TBI’s operation to combat human trafficking in Knoxville, 32 people were arrested. However, the only two people charged with trafficking were pastors: Pastor Kennedy and volunteer creative pastor Zubin Parakh at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge.
32 arrested in Knoxville human trafficking investigation
After a three day investigation, agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and detectives with the Knoxville Police Department arrested 32 men and women on prostitution and human trafficking-related charges.
TBI said two of the men arrested, including Grace Baptist children’s pastor, Jason Kennedy, responded to ads for what they thought were girls under the age of 18. Investigators say those arrested come from every sector. Grace Baptist’s website lists Kennedy as a pastor for birth through fifth grade.
“All of these people are somebody’s neighbor,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. During the three-day investigation, undercover agents posted ads on Backpage.com.
Court records say in Kennedy’s case, he allegedly responded to an ad on Backpage.com on May 19 via a text message. The records say he was made aware that a second female who was under 18 would be present and they negotiated a $100 fee for a half hour of sex with both females. Kennedy was told to go to Pilot on Merchants Drive for instructions on where to meet the girls and was then told to go to Best Western on Pratt Road. The documents say he was then told the girl was only 15, but Kennedy allegedly said he wanted to have sex with both the underage girl and the other woman. After placing $100 on the counter and removing his pants, the documents say he was taken into custody by law enforcement.
Grace Baptist said in a statement Kennedy has been terminated.
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 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.
The church said they will be available to provide care and information to their church members.
Another man arrested, Zubin Parakh, served as a volunteer “creative pastor” at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge, according to their website. WATE 6 On Your Side has reached out to the church for comment. He has now been booked into Knox county jail. According to documents, he agreed to have sex with an undercover agent whom he believed to be 17-years-old. He agreed to pay $100 for 30 minutes. The incident occurred at Gospels Voice Russian Church. WATE 6 On Your Side has reached out to the church, but have not heard back yet.
“Finding these people who are trying to buy Tennessee children is a priority for us,” said Gwyn. “We want anyone responding to those ads to think there may be a TBI Agent on the other end of it. We will do whatever we can to make a difference in reducing the human trafficking that takes place in Tennessee.”
According to the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking Kate Trudell, more than 90 minors are listed for human trafficking online in Tennessee each month. “Human trafficking is a demand driven crime,” said Trudell.
During the investigation, more than 300 contacts were made to ads placed on the website, according to TBI. They said one of their agents posed as a juvenile girl and the ad received more than two dozen contacts.
“Human trafficking is a scourge on society,” said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch. “We will continue to commit all the necessary resources and work alongside our law enforcement partners to help protect our most precious resource our children.”
Those arrested face charges for patronizing prostitution, prostitution and more. The suspects include:
- Michael Clayton, 43, of Clinton for patronizing prostitution
- Larry Quarles, 52, of New Market for patronizing prostitution
- Gerrado Merchant, 36, of Jacksboro for patronizing prostitution
- James Perkins, 50, of Sweetwater for patronizing prostitution
- Greg Hensley, 44, of Mascot for patronizing prostitution
- Jaton Johnson, 38, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution and simple possession
- Samuel Rivers, 27, of East Point, Georgia for patronizing prostitution, unlawful possession of a weapon and simple possession
- Prashante Bhatka, 35, of Columbus, North Carolina for patronizing prostitution
- James Warren, 32, of Newport for patronizing prostitution
- Dariuz Jurczak, 45, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Gary Bauer, 56, of Heiskell for patronizing prostitution
- Nicholas Rains, 24, of Maryville for patronizing prostitution
- Ignacio Jimenez, 38, of Maryville for patronizing prostitution
- Patrick Douthat, 27, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Brandon Slatton, 22, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Jeffrey Sweeney, 63, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Robert Aiken, 48, of Jacksboro for patronizing prostitution
- Atari McNabb, 28, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Zubin Parakh, 32, of Oak Ridge for patronizing prostitution and trafficking
- Jonathan McCarthy, 30, of Augusta, Georgia for patronizing prostration
- Jose Juarez, 38, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Robert Lambert, 40, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Cornelius Turner, 25, of Memphis for patronizing prostitution
- Jerry Rhode, 63, of Kodak for patronizing prostitution
- Zachary Desha, 24, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution
- Jason Kennedy, 46, of Knoxville for patronizing prostitution and trafficking
- Kelsey Martin, 23, Boaz for prostitution
- Alexis Phelps, 21 of Knoxville for prostitution
- Shirley Henry, 23, of Clinton for prostitution
- Stephanie Thomas, 23, of Knoxville for prostitution
- Crystal Myers, 37, of Knoxville for prostitution