The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Friday authorities arrested 32 people in a Knoxville human trafficking operation.
The TBI said in a release two of the men, including a children’s minister, arrested in “Operation Someone Like Me” 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. He was fired after the charges were revealed.
Senior Pastor Ron Stewart has worked at Grace Baptist for the last 28 years, and said he has never dealt with anything like this.
Stewart said Kennedy was not only a co-worker, but a friend.
“Jason was a guy that talked so much about his wife and how much he loved her, and she talked about how she loved him and their three children,” Stewart said. “I mean, they were a great family.”
Pastor Stewart said no one has complained about his behavior at the church.
He said the church has cameras, security personnel and strict safety rules when dealing with children.
Stewart feels his members are safe, however, the days ahead will still be tough.
“There’s some people that are going to be very angry, they are angry. I understand that. Forgiveness is something that’s a process, you have to work through it,” Stewart said. “I feel pity for Jason, but I also understand that when you make decisions and choices, there are consequences. He made his choices and he will face his consequences, we are not sorry he got caught. We are sorry that he did what he did”
Stewart said Grace Baptist will hold prayer services Sunday at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Grace Baptist Church released the following statement Friday to the media about 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 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 c
Jason Kennedy, 46, was arrested for patronizing prostiution and trafficking.
onduct 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.
According to a TBI release, the only other person charged with trafficking was Zubin Parakh, 32, from Oak Ridge.
Parakh is connected to Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge. A church spokesperson said Parakh serves as a volunteer as a “creative pastor.”
Although Parakh is not officially a pastor at LIfehouse Church, he was working toward becoming one. The church said Parakh has never worked with children.
Records show Parakh responded to an online ad and agreed to pay $100 for sex with a 17-year-old.
The 30 other people arrested were charged with patronizing prostitution or prostitution.
TBI director Mark Gwyn said Friday the men arrested also include an engineer and a volunteer firefighter.