Sheriff details out-county GHOST operations, human trafficking arrests

GENESEE COUNTY — Since its inception in 2018, the Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team (GHOST) has conducted 130 arrests and taken many sexual predators off the streets.

Now, the task force is branching out to assist police departments across the state with human trafficking busts and sting operations in their own communities.

Over the last six months, GHOST has conducted operations in 14 counties outside the Genesee area, including Shiawassee, Livingston, Sanilac and Gratiot counties; Mecosta, Isabella, Newaygo, Osceola and Montcalm counties; Monroe County in southeastern Michigan; Marquette, Menominee and Chippewa counties in the Upper Peninsula; and Oceana County on the west side of the state.

In total, those operations led to the arrests of 25 individuals—most of whom were apprehended after coming to have sexual encounters with GHOST decoys who they thought were underage teens between the ages of 13 to 15.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson detailed many of those out-county arrests during a special GHOST briefing held on Sept. 7. He said that GHOST’s partnerships with neighboring counties began last April when his department helped the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department to investigate a human trafficking case involving three underage girls who were being trafficked for sex from Detroit to Toledo and even as far west as Kalamazoo and as far north as the Flint area.

GHOST rescued the three girls and arrested their trafficker in Flint Township. Five men were also arrested in sting operations by Monroe County police for trying to arrange sexual encounters with the victims—including two suspects from Toledo.

Swanson said that many predators will cross county lines and even state lines to have sex with underage human trafficking victims—a pattern that he said has developed in Genesee County.

“Although we’re doing operations here, predators aren’t (always) from here,” he said. “They come from all over the state and other states.

“As our team was progressing and building out, we saw how far-reaching (human trafficking) was,” Swanson continued. “I knew it was important for us to reach out to the counties where predators come from and where they go.”

After conducting successful sting operations with the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Department last fall, GHOST began working with other agencies even farther outside Genesee County in western Michigan and the Upper Peninsula this year. GHOST assisted police in Marquette with five arrests, facilitated three arrests with authorities in Chippewa County and aided multiple jurisdictions and departments in apprehending three suspects in a sting operation encompassing Mecosta, Isabella, Newaygo, Osceola, Montcalm counties.

Using the template that has worked in Genesee County, GHOST is helping other departments in the state to form their own human trafficking task forces, such as Shiawassee County’s SHOT team, Marquette County’s U.P. Human Trafficking Task Force and Monroe County’s VIPER team.

Swanson said that GHOST’s cooperation with other counties is helping to uncover human trafficking rings and nab dangerous predators in sting operations before they can target victims.

“We know that there are no boundaries for predators,” he said. “They go (to different communities) because they don’t want to be discovered. They go under ‘the cover of darkness’ because people may not know them.

“My mission when it comes to human trafficking is that every police agency in the country has their hand in human trafficking enforcement,” Swanson added. “We’ve seen the need.”

Within Genesee County, GHOST also arrested five suspects within the past six months, including former Genesee County corrections officer Benjamin Reinhart from Gaines, Tabori Ellison from Grand Blanc, Chad Greer from Otisville, Jonathan Falcon from Fenton and Anthony Walker from Clio. All five suspects were arrested for attempting to solicit sex from GHOST decoys and are facing multiple felony charges.

To see a full video of Swanson’s GHOST/human trafficking briefing, visit the Genesee County Sheriff’s Facebook page.