Some suspects from statewide sex sting get breaks: I-Team

WESTLAKE, Ohio (WJW) — New video released to the FOX 8 I-Team takes you inside a recent statewide crackdown on human trafficking.

And, you may be surprised by what we uncovered happening in court. We found charges in some cases have been reduced even for suspects with ties to school children.

All of this grew out of a sting set up to bust people thinking they were going to hotels to find sex for sale.

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New video we’ve obtained shows the bust of John Zitzner, a man who’d helped start a chain of charter schools. He went to a Westlake hotel to buy sex. Then, the police video shows, when Zitzner gets to the room, he finds out he’s been caught in a sting.

Zitzner was taken into custody by Westlake Police and the Cuyahoga County Human Trafficking Task Force.

We checked court records, and we found Zitzner has already plead no contest. But, he’s going into a court diversion program. That means, if he stays out of trouble, a judge could later dismiss his charges and, maybe, seal his record.

Also caught in the sting was Michael Schnurr, who had been working as a math instructor for a private tutoring center.

A recording of his phone calls to arrange to buy sex shows him getting to the hotel and calling up to the undercover officer. He, first, faced a charge of Engaging in Prostitution. And, now, records show he has plead no contest to a lesser, or reduced, charge.

Laura Bartchak works to help human trafficking survivors with the group known as the Harriet Tubman Movement. She said she doesn’t expect prison time in these stings. But, she also doesn’t like charges and sentences reduced.

“Buying a person for sex is a crime, no matter what the court system says about it,” she said. “When the sentence is diminished, there is no initiative or incentive to reduce the behavior.”

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Investigators carried out the crackdown under the Ohio Attorney General. We reached out there after seeing some of the cases reduced.

A spokesperson released a statement, saying in part, “The prosecution of these charges is up to the local municipalities, whose prosecutors make the decision on how to handle the cases.”

Stating the operations had three goals:

  • to reduce demand which includes arresting those seeking to buy sex;

  • to identify potential human trafficking survivors and refer them to services; and

  • to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking in Ohio.

By these measures, Operation Buyer’s Remorse was a success.

Many cases from the recent statewide operation remain still pending in court. We’ll keep watching to see what happens.

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