The superintendent of Ripley Public Schools was arrested Friday on a complaint of soliciting prostitution, and a former Ripley teacher is among eight people charged with racketeering and pandering amid an investigation into illicit massage parlors by multiple northeastern Oklahoma law enforcement agencies.
Teresa Adams, Thomas Johnson, Ravi Chandra Kakaraparthi, Meri Peterson, Kara Rodriguez, Kacey Williamson and Elizabeth Wyers were charged Thursday in Tulsa County District Court with racketeering, pandering, using computers to violate state law, having proceeds from violating state law and conspiracy.
The seven are accused of having involvement in the operation of Tulsa-area massage parlors that were fronts for the sex industry, as well as facilitating transactions on websites such as Reddit and Discord.
Gene “Geno” Gregg of Broken Arrow is accused in a separate case of the same counts except racketeering on allegations that he recruited women to become sex workers in a “sugar daddy” arrangement.
Court documents say Williamson was a sixth-grade teacher at Ripley Public Schools, which is in Payne County, and identified one of her superiors as a person “known to solicit” paid sex in the Tulsa area. That unnamed person has not yet been charged. Williamson is no longer listed as a teacher on the Ripley Public Schools website.
Ripley Superintendent Kenneth Beams was arrested Friday evening on a complaint of soliciting prostitution, Tulsa County jail records show.
“If you are a consumer of paying for sex and victimizing women, we are coming after you,” Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said earlier Friday. “You already know who you are. You should know that we know who you are.”
The investigation, called “Operation Velvet Fury,” was a collaboration between Tulsa and Broken Arrow police, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations.
“None of the women who were operating as prostitutes were arrested,” said Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Elmore, who leads the DA’s Special Victims Unit. “Nongovernmental organizations were contacted prior to the execution of any arrest warrants to ensure those women would be provided services and help if they so need it.”
Elmore and Assistant Attorney General John Brasher said the approach by law enforcement differed from that of typical investigations in the early- to mid-2000s, which resulted in the repeated arrests of prostitutes. Brasher said it became clear that many of those women were caught in a “revolving door” of being arrested or cited, only to return to the same environment without solving the larger problem of the existence of illicit massage facilities.
“It’s a demand-focused approach to where we’re taking a targeted approach at ‘johns’ for purchasing commercial sex acts as well as the business providers and those on the fringe with these apps,” Elmore said. “Landlords, anybody who is profiting from this while sitting on the sidelines and knowing these illegal activities go on are going to be targeted now under the full extent of the law.”
Probable cause affidavits indicate that Kakaraparthi created the Discord server at issue — called “phoenix” — and was a moderator in a private community named “relaxtulsa” on Reddit. Williamson and Johnson were moderators of the server, which had numerous channels for each of the businesses.
Williamson, according to an affidavit, wrote on Discord that she “was starting a new life but planned on keeping select clients” for sex work, using hotels in order to keep clients away from her home. Peterson’s business was called “Bellanovva,” while Rodriguez’s was named “Barbie’s,” an affidavit says.
Wyers, according to an affidavit, operated the “Prestige” parlor, and Adams ran “Tulsa T Massage.” Officers reported having received at least 11 tips since 2016 about illegal activity within Adams’ business, culminating in her unwittingly providing a “cooperating source” with information this summer about the sex acts offered.
Broken Arrow police allege that Gregg held “social” events at Tulsa restaurants for men to meet women and begin “sugar daddy” arrangements. They also claim he operated a website called “Girlfriend Academy,” offering tips and coaching services for prospective “sugar daddies.”
A client told police that Gregg would “begin to groom” women who worked as servers in restaurants when they talked about needing money and he would tell them how much they could make if they became sex workers, according to an affidavit.
A message Gregg reportedly sent on Discord in July expressed frustration at being “cut out” by clients, writing that if these men “will not hire me and pay me to find them a sugar baby, but prefer to just loot my harem, that’s not gonna happen again,” the document states.
One of the messages from Johnson warns Discord server participants against publicizing their activity, writing: “Golden rules are, contact girl, get rate, go see girl, have fun, pay girl, leave,” the affidavit states. Authorities said they believe he had obtained or was about to obtain an apartment for use by a “select group who paid a monthly fee” for access, plus charges for specific times they used the room for transactions.
Rodriguez, who lives in Texas, reportedly picked up proceeds in Tulsa each month. She and Johnson spoke on Discord in March about which of the sex workers they considered “management material,” and she told another person in May, “I screen every single client and check every single reference” after one expressed skepticism of a client, an affidavit says.
Elmore and Brasher said the privacy of both online communities required investigators to develop relationships with workers in order to gain access to the conversations without being detected.
“The number of people involved … and the number of people who were shop owners and the sheer number of people who were facilitating and allowing these shops to run and advertise freely, that was a surprise,” Brasher said. “It was a shock to have that many people involved in this.”
“Operating in the shadows, these individuals have participated in acts that have enabled this industry,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said.
“There’s also, as a component of this, drug smuggling, robbery, sexual assault,” he said. “Those are only a handful of the horrific crimes that emanate from these networks. This can never be tolerated in the state.”