KNOXVILLE (WATE) – After 32 men and women were arrested by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Knoxville Police Department, two pastors appeared in court Tuesday.
Grace Baptist Church’s children’s pastor, Jason Kennedy and LifeHouse Church’s volunteer creative pastor, Zubin Parakh, are accused of soliciting sex with minors. Both men, represented by Knoxville defense attorney Greg Isaacs, pleaded not guilty to the human trafficking charges.
“Stings of this nature are typically high-pressure law enforcement operations that ensnare a lot of people,” Isaacs said. “Many of those individuals are not predisposed to commit the crimes they are swept up and later charged with, so I would encourage everyone to keep an open mind as this matter goes forward.”
TBI says Kennedy responded to ads for what he thought were girls under the age of 18. Kennedy was a pastor for children from birth through fifth grade. Since his arrest, the church has fired Kennedy. Grace Baptist released a statement:
The children’s pastor of Grace Baptist Church has been terminated as a result of an arrest in a police sting related to prostitution and human trafficking.
The actions of the children’s pastor for which he has been arrested were part of his life outside the church, and we have received no questions or concerns related to his conduct within the church or its ministries.
The children’s pastor was hired two-and-a-half years ago. The church’s background check turned up no issues that indicate any previous problem. In fact, the children’s pastor in his application affirmed that he had no issues from his background of a criminal or other nature.
We are praying for his family and will continue to provide the services of our ministry to them.
Grace Baptist Senior Pastor Ron Stewart told WATE, ““I was devastated. I was totally shocked,” Ron Stewart said. “It’s something you can’t anticipate. I have nine other pastors and I’m constantly telling them, ‘we are held to a higher standard.’”
Church members said they are equally shaken by the news.
“I was sick. I just doubled over it and I said, ‘no, Lord, no,’ Jennie Talley said. “My initial reaction was just anger, scare, weeping, sadness, just sadness.”
Kennedy is married with three children, who Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said will ultimately suffer the consequences of Kennedy’s actions.
Kennedy pleaded not guilty and his preliminary hearing is set for June 20.
Zubin Parakh agreed to have sex with an undercover agent whom he believed to be 17-years-old, according to TBI. He agreed to pay $100 for 30. After pleading not guilty, his preliminary hearing was set for June 20. LifeHouse Church of Oak Ridge released a statement concerning Parakh’s arrest:
“We are saddened today as a result of information relating Zubin Parakh who was a volunteer worker at our church. Our church and its leaders were not aware of any alleged misconduct regarding Mr. Parakh. However, we are praying for all parties involved.
We both ask for and hope our church family’s privacy will be respected throughout this process.”