A human trafficking sting operation conducted at a Knoxville motel by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has led to the arrest of 32 individuals, among them 2 pastors. Operation “Someone Like Me” involved ads placed by law enforcement offering sex with underage girls. Jason Evan Kennedy, 46, head of the children’s ministry at Grace Baptist Church of Knoxville, and Zubin Percy Parakh, 32, creative pastor with Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge, were charged after they answered the ads. Kennedy was arrested after arriving at the motel to meet with what he thought were 15 and 16 year old girls; Parakh was initially charged with patronizing prostitution but later a warrant was amended to include the trafficking charge.
In Tennessee, a Class B felony normally is punishable by a prison sentence of eight to 30 years and a fine of $25,000.
Senior Pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Ron Stewart, says that Kennedy has never been accused of inappropriate behavior at the church and passed background checks when he was hired two and a half years ago. Pastor Ryan acknowledged the church faces challenges ahead.
“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. 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”
Grace Baptist has fired Kennedy. Lifehouse Church has put distance between the church and Parakh, insisting he was only a volunteer and not a paid staff member.