More than 250 people arrested in sex trafficking crackdown in Harris County

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- More than 250 alleged sex buyers and traffickers are behind bars on prostitution charges in Harris County as part of a months-long nationwide crackdown, the Harris County Sherrif's Office announced Friday.

According to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Harris County deputies arrested 161 alleged sex buyers, while Houston police arrested 88 alleged sex buyers and nine alleged sex traffickers.

Arrests made by authorities in Houston and Harris County accounted for a quarter of those in the National John Suppression Initiative between June and August, which included 37 law enforcement agencies in 17 states. In the Houston area, eight local hotel operators also cooperated with authorities executing the sting.

According to Nathan Beedle with the Harris County District Attorney's Office, cell phones and apps like Snapchat are increasingly used to facilitate prostitution-related transactions.

In Harris County, solicitation of prostitution - a class B misdemeanor - is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.

"Our hearts go out to victims of any crime, especially violent crime and especially when someone is taking away their freedom. People are being forced to do things against their will. As human beings, that tugs at your heart," said HPD Assistant Chief Matt Slinkard.

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Police said nationally, agencies participated in the National John Suppression Initiative between June and August.

Business professionals, a DPS trooper and a pastor are among those who were arrested.

According to charging documents, 52-year-old Eddie Hilburn, a former associate pastor at a church in The Woodlands, was taken into custody after he agreed to pay for sex.

"This was a big win. We are committed in the long haul for this," Gonzalez said.

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