A 54-year-old man has been jailed in Parma and charged with sex trafficking of children, the FBI announced Monday.
Richard Purnell had also threatened to shoot a 14-year-old girl with a shotgun if she ever told about him having sex with her, according to the girl's testimony.
In November 2015, the FBI came across an online advertisement of a so-called college girl who had a "thing for older men" that included photographs of a girl who the FBI said it later discovered was 14-years-old.
The FBI arrested Purnell at around 8:30 p.m. on May 6 with assistance from Parma police. In a Facebook account he listed himself as the owner of R&R Roofing.
When agents first saw the online advertisement posted on Backpage.com with photos of a person in lingerie, even then they thought she looked like a girl. An agent called the number listed, pretending to be interested in having sex with the person pictured. A text-based conversation ensued; the FBI provided the following excerpts:
Agent: What's an hour cost?
Target Phone: 180
Agent: ...you do it all?
Target Phone: No anal everything protected
Target Phone: Are you affiliated with any law enforcement agencies in any type of way?
That same day, agents said the 14-year-old victim met an agent in front of the agreed-upon hotel and answered to the name listed in the ad. She followed the agent into the hotel and toward a room when the agent identified himself as law enforcement.
Outside the hotel, agents arrested the alleged "pimp" who had driven her there.
The girl said the man had used an application on his iPhone to arrange many dates for her to engage in commercial sex, according to the bureau. Agents said she also told them about an alleged regular customer in Parma that she had performed commercial sex with on multiple occasions.
The victim said that at least once she saw her alleged pimp take money directly from Purnell for the sex she had performed, according to authorities.
After investigating these allegations, the FBI arrested Purnell.
"This is the first time we have charged a John, someone who is engaged in sex with a child, in the Northern District," said FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson. "A lot of times the victims might know who the pimp is but don't know who the customers are," said Anderson. "This victim knew who one of the customers was," added Anderson.
Authorities said the teenage victim testified she had informed Purnell that she was 14-years-old, but had begun having sex with him when she was 13.
"I think it is wonderful because we don't see anything about Johns being charged," said Renee Jones of the Renee Jones Empowerment Center. A center that helps victims of human trafficking.
Verizon cell phone records show that between July 2, 2015 and February 21, 2016, Purnell engaged in 5,854 text messages and 204 voice call communications with phone numbers used in Backpage.com escort ads, and approximately 1,010 communications were with at least three juveniles, according to the FBI.
Records also show communications with multiple other people that the bureau suspects are juveniles.
Purnell is looking at a possible 15-year-minimum sentence.
A charge is not evidence of guilt.