Liberty police seek tips on prostitution at hotels

Chief says human trafficking on the rise off I-80 exit

LIBERTY — Township police are asking for help from residents and businesses to help catch human trafficking and prostitution going on at the six hotels surrounding the Interstate 80 and Belmont Avenue exit.

Interim police Chief Toby Meloro said the action is coming in the wake of the March 14 arrest of eight men during an undercover operation involving the Liberty Police Department and the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, which is part of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s Organized Crime Investigations Commission.

Meloro said the selling of sex, whether through human trafficking or prostitution, seems to be going on in the hotels in the area.

“We have alerted the business community to be on the lookout. We want to be proactive and not reactive in this situation,” Meloro said.

During the recent investigation, contact was made with more than 100 people over the internet.

The interim chief said the Liberty hotels’ location of being halfway between Chicago and New York makes it convenient for truckers to come off the highway looking for sex.

“We learned that a lot of these prostitutes like to call the truckers in (to these hotels),” Meloro said. “We want people to report to us if they see anything suspicious going on.”

Clerks from three of the hotels in question declined comment on the situation, referring questions to their general managers who were not available.

A clerk from Quality Inn and Suites who declined to give her name confirmed that police had talked to her staff about the issue. A call made to Cody Wilder, general manager of the Comfort Suites, was not returned.

Meanwhile, the eight men who were arraigned Tuesday in Girard Municipal Court are free on bond.

Seven of the men, four of whom are residents of Trumbull County, are facing misdemeanor charges of soliciting and possession of criminal tools. They each entered a plea of not guilty before Judge Jeffrey D. Adler, who set a pretrial hearing for June 12.

Those arrested on charges of possession of criminal tools and solicitation included Thomas Biroschak Jr., 29, Canfield; Patrick Cassidy, 52, Hubbard; Joseph Smith, 39, Niles; Brian Stewart, 37, Kinsman; Francis Cerech, 25, Campbell; Terrance Flanigan, 51, Niles; and Louis Stirk, 47, Youngstown.

Brian Evans III, 47, of Youngstown, was arrested on felony charges of drug possession, as well as charges of possession of criminal tools and solicitation. He entered a not guilty plea and had his pretrial set for April 10.