Men involved in sex trafficking sting arraigned, names released

August 10, 2023

Men involved in sex trafficking sting arraigned, names released

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

Volpp

LUDINGTON — The three men arrested following a child sex trafficking sting have been arraigned. Arraigned in Mason County’s 79th District Court were Steven Volpp, 58, of Hart; Kenneth Smith, 53, of Ormond Beach, Fla., who had been camping in Oceana County, and Gabriel Talevich, 20, of Wyoming, Mich. Each have been charged with accosting a minor for immoral purposes, a felony punishable by up to four years imprisonment and/or a $4,000 fine; using a computer to commit a crime, a felony punishable by four to 10 years and/or a $5,000 fine; and prostitution/engaging in services, a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 93 days in jail and/or a $500 fine. 

The three were arrested, at different times of the day and evening, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, at Suttons Landing, where the men each thought they were meeting up with a 15 year old child for the purposes of engaging in sexual activity, according to Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole. 

In a press conference this morning at the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Cole, Ludington Police Chief Chris Jones, Mason County Prosecuting Attorney Lauren Kreinbrink and Michigan State Police Sgt. Trevor Beck, announced the arrests that took place at Suttons Landing following a two week investigation. 

Smith

Cole said the sting was initiated after two Mason County sheriff deputies saw the movie “Sound of Freedom,” which is a film about a former U.S. government agent who embarks on a mission to rescue children from sex traffickers. 

The operation was a collaboration with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office human trafficking team GHOST (Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team) and also included cooperation with the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office and SSCENT (State, Sheriff’s, Chief’s Enforcement of Narcotics Team). 

“This operation started a noon (on Wednesday) with a briefing, and by 1:30 p.m., the first person was taken into custody,” Sheriff Cole said. “In total, three persons were arrested yesterday afternoon and last night and our office is seeking charges of soliciting a minor for immoral purposes and using a computer in the commission of a crime. Additional charges are possible, pending a review of the reports by Prosector Kreinbrink.” 

Kreinbrink said she will prosecute each of the men to the fullest extent of the law. 

“This operation involved the suspects engaging in on-line chatting with a person they believed to be a 15-year-old,” Sheriff Cole said. “Make no mistake, those arrested knew full well the age of the person being solicited. After a price for services was established, a meeting was set up at Sutton’s Landing on Iris Road in Pere Marquette Township. 

“The arrested teams involved two man teams of Ludington Police Department officers and two man teams of Mason County sheriff’s deputies. The arrests were made with no threat to the public and those arrested did comply with arrested officers.” 

Chief Jones said parents need to be vigilant about their children’s online activities. 

“I would encourage parents to have age appropriate conversations with their children about the dangers that exist, monitor electronic device usage and engagement by children and be involved and present in their children’s lives. In the upcoming school year, law enforcement through school resource officers, will be rolling out educational materials and guidance to assist parents in this effort,” Jones said. 

Cole added that parents should not allow their children to take electronic communication devices, such as cell phones, into their bedrooms.

“There’s no reason for a child to have a device like that unsupervised,” Cole said. 

Both Cole and Jones stated they were proud of the cooperation between the various law enforcement agencies that participated in the operation. 

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