Eleven arrested in prostitution sting

CORRECTION 11-24-21 9:10 a.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that Joseph Michael Powell had a Nov. 23 court date. That is a different Joseph Powell and a different case, on Maui. The Tribune-Herald regrets the error.

Eleven adults — 10 men and a woman — were arrested by police last week in a prostitution sting conducted by the Hilo Vice Section.

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According to Sgt. Jason Grouns of the Hawaii Police Department’s Administrative Bureau, the operation took place Tuesday and Wednesday at a hotel on Banyan Drive in Hilo.

“The suspects answered an online advertisement,” Grouns said in a Monday email.

Those arrested include: two 65-year-old Mountain View men; three Hilo men, ages 35, 44 and 57; a 33-year-old Volcano man; a 38-year-old Keaau man; a 45-year-old Kula, Maui, man; a 39-year-old East Puyallup, Wash., man; a 41-year-old man with no address given; and a 60-year-old Honolulu woman.

All were arrested on Wednesday or Thursday and were booked on suspicion of soliciting prostitution, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail upon conviction, and released from custody pending further investigation.

The Tribune-Herald isn’t publishing the names of the suspects, since none have yet been charged.

No other law enforcement agencies were involved in the sting operation, Grouns said.

The most recent previous sex-related sting operation in Hilo was conducted in May, and resulted in the arrests of five men on charges including first-degree electronic enticement of a child, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

The status of those cases are:

• Sonny Eugenio Puerto, 28, of Kurtistown, pleaded not guilty to first-degree electronic enticement of a child. No trial date has been set, but a hearing for “further proceedings” is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 7 before Hilo Circuit Judge Peter Kubota. Puerto is free on $30,000 bail.

• Nolan Okalani Tallett, 45, of Honolulu, pleaded not guilty to first-degree electronic enticement of a child. No trial date has been set, but a hearing for further proceedings is scheduled for 8 a.m. Jan. 12 before Kubota. Tallett is free on $50,000 bail.

• Kanani Ikaika Perreira-Yurong, 31, of Hilo, pleaded not guilty to first-degree electronic enticement of a child. No trial date has been set, but a hearing for further proceedings is scheduled for 8 a.m. Dec. 21 before Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto. Perreira-Yurong is free on $50,000 bail.

• Marshall K. Baji, 31, of Naalehu pleaded not guilty to first-degree electronic enticement of a child, attempted promotion of pornography to a minor, first-degree attempted promotion of a minor-produced sexual image, methamphetamine possession, possession of drug paraphernalia, possessing a loaded firearm on a public roadway, illegally carrying ammunition, and firearms permit and registration offenses. He has a trial scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Jan. 24 in Nakamoto’s courtroom. Baji remains in custody in Hawaii Community Correctional Center in lieu of $143,000 bail.

• Joseph Michael Powell, 36, of Hilo pleaded not guilty to first-degree electronic enticement of a child, attempted promotion of pornography to minors and 11 counts of attempted promotion of a minor-produced nude images. Powell is scheduled for trial on Feb. 14 in Kubota’s courtroom. Powell remains in custody at HCCC in lieu of $82,000 bail.

The May sting was a multi-agency operation authorities dubbed “Operation Keiki Shield” — and was conducted by the Hawaii Police Department, Hawaii County Office of Prosecuting Attorney, Department of the Attorney General, Internet Crimes Against Children’s Task Force, Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI and the Kauai Police Department.

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The ages of suspects arrested in the May operation are as reported at the time of arrest.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.