McLENNAN COUNTY, Texas – The McLennan County Sherriff’s Department held a press conference Monday in relation to the 15 arrests made by the Human Trafficking Unit.

Two of the people arrested are former officers.

The McLennan County Sherriff’s Department made all those arrests in just five days during a statewide effort with the office of the Attorney General and Texas DPS.

McLennan County Sherriff Parnell McNamara says they had the highest numbers of arrest made in the statewide effort.

“Houston [had] 14 individuals arrested,” McNamara said. “So you have a city between two and a half and three million people that arrested less than McLennan County did.”

As of September 1st, soliciting prostitution is now a state felony – making Texas the first state in the country to prioritize human trafficking this way.

“As of September 1st, buying sex is a felony. It’s a very serious offense now, and no longer a misdemeanor,” McNamara said.

Between October 4 and October 8, the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office’s Human Tracking Unit conducted a sex buyer operation online – leading to the arrest of 15 men.

Two of the men are former law enforcement – Officers Michael Bellis, with the Garland City Marshalls Office, and Willy Lopez, with Waco PD.

“[Lopez] was a police officer the first time. He was on active duty when we caught him in 2018. Now we’ve caught him again,” McNamara said.

The two undercover detectives, Joseph Scaramucci and Andrew Hermes, shared how they track the offenders leading to an arrest.

“We post ads on those sites and provide information for them to get a hold of us, and once that happens it’s just chatting,” Scaramucci said.

“As long as they keep buying, we’re gonna keep putting them in jail,” McNamara said. “I am very proud of our guys. 15 people in five days says a whole lot.”

He says the majority of trafficking is online – including social media – making it easier to locate the suspect.

“We’ve worked these cases all over the country, and it doesn’t change were you’re at,” Scaramucci said. “The difference is were flipping more rocks then most agencies are.”

Over the past six years, the Sherriff’s Department has made over 600 arrests associated with buying sex.

“We have an effort, that I believe, is stronger than anywhere else. And I will put our unit up against anyone anywhere,” McNamara said.

The Sheriff’s Office also released this statement:

We will continue to work diligently to eradicate human trafficking from our community, and hold those that purchase victim’s accountable.

– McLennan County Sheriff’s Office