Citing the limited case law on a new human trafficking statute, Magistrate Court Judge Tracy Loggins elected Monday to drop that charge for two men implicated in an undercover prostitution sting.
Clifford Allen Nash, 37, of Commerce and Aaron Clayton Boone, 32, of Cleveland appeared Monday in Magistrate Court to face charges of criminal attempt to commit human trafficking.
Instead, those charges were reduced to electronic enticement of a minor as the case moves forward to Superior Court.
The two area men were arrested and charged Oct. 9-10 for allegedly offering money for sex with an undercover agent.
“They were both told that she was really 14 years old,” Hall County Sheriff’s Office Detective Adam Faulkner said at the committal hearing Monday.
The sting, Faulkner said, originated on Backpage.com, where the woman was listed as 18 years old.
According to information the undercover agent gave to Faulkner, both men discussed meeting with the agent even after allegedly hearing she was presenting herself as a 14-year-old.
“A lot of people when they heard 14 broke contact and never made contact again,” Faulkner said.
Investigators set up meeting locations around Gainesville — including a Subway — which were a considerable distance from the suspects’ residences, Faulkner said.
Dan Parr, Nash’s attorney, asked Faulkner whether it was possible his client simply stuck around Gainesville after his work in town.
Faulkner said he believed Nash had already gone home, according to his recollection of the agent’s conversations. Nash lives in Commerce.
“The totality of all the steps that he took led us to believe he was there for the purpose of that meeting, and he hadn’t driven that long to get a Subway sandwich that night,” Faulkner said.
Boone’s attorney Tom Cassert confirmed with Faulkner that there were no attempts at coercion, threats or deception during his client’s alleged conversations with the undercover agent.
The men were interviewed by Faulkner in a hotel room about their interactions. In his interview, Nash claimed he had no intention to have sex with a 14-year-old.
“He didn’t bring condoms. He didn’t bring money. The testimony was, in his statement he made to police, was if she turned out to be 14 I wasn’t going to do anything,” Parr said, adding he never got to find out because of the arrest.
Nash and Boone were charged with three co-defendants: Sambo Kong, 29, of Athens; David Bryan Bryant, 48, of Gainesville; and Sagarkumar Chetankumar Patel, 22, of Oakwood. A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning in Kong’s case. The other two waived committal hearings, meaning the cases automatically proceed to Superior Court.
Because of the numerous interviews and the fact Faulkner did not have the recorded conversations at his disposal, Parr questioned the detective about his memory as it pertains specifically to his client.
“Your client has a distinct Southern accent, different from all the others, so that’s why his response sticks in my mind,” Faulkner said.
Because the agent was over the age of 18, both attorneys attempted to knock down the charges related to human trafficking and a secondary charge of criminal attempt to commit child molestation.
“If my client had sex with (the agent), it wouldn’t be a crime,” Cassert said in challenging the child molestation charge.
Multiple subsections of the human trafficking statute, Loggins said, deal with the duress or coercion for someone to commit the act, which was disproved in testimony.
“I’m concerned about that this was an arranged meeting,” Loggins said. “It wasn’t a continual pattern of behavior of using someone for sexual servitude, of pimping out someone for sex, but it is very concerning.”
Loggins decided to change both charges of criminal attempt to commit human trafficking to electronic enticement of a minor. Boone’s charge of attempt of child molestation was changed to attempted aggravated sexual battery.
Both attorneys made no arguments on the pandering charge.