Bombshell report: Pentagon official who oversaw elementary schools in Georgia arrested in sex trafficking sting

COWETA, GA- The Daily Caller News Foundation reported that a high-level administrator in the Pentagon’s school system in the Americas region was arrested on Nov. 15 in connection with a human trafficking sting in Coweta County, Georgia. 

Stephen Francis Hovanic, 64, of Sharpsburg, Georgia, was arrested and charged with suspicion of pandering, according to a press release announcing the operation and provided to the Daily Caller. Eva Tedder, administrator for the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office, said Hovanic told jail staff he works for the Department of Defense (DoD) located in Peachtree City, Georgia, where the Department of Defense Education Activity’s (DODEA) Americas division is located, the agency’s website said. 

The Daily Caller said a booking photo of Hovanic, provided by the Coweta County Sheriff’s Department, shows a man who closely resembles the man in DODEA America’s Chief of Staff Stephen Hovanic’s biography on the agency’s website, with a distinctive scar across the chin being visible in both photos. 

The biography also notes that Hovanic lives in Sharpsburg, Georgia. 

Authorities said Hovanic’s arrest was one of over two dozen made throughout the two-day operation designed to locate victims of human trafficking, the Newnan Times-Herald reported. 

Six women, identified as victims of human trafficking, were arrested in the operation, which saw suspects charged with pandering, drug possession, prostitution and pimping, the press release said. 

The outlet declined to publish the names of the victims “due to the nature of their victimization.” 

“The victims were taken to an undisclosed ‘safe house,’ where they will receive the help they need to move forward from the heinous crime of human trafficking,” said Sgt. Toby Nix of the Coweta County Sheriff’s Department. “All females contacted in this operation were offered the same assistance, with some refusing any aid.” 

“Pandering is not a victimless crime, as the demand for prostitution drives the sex trafficking market,” Nex added. 

He also said that some of those arrested for pimping would also be indicted on human trafficking charges. 

The Coweta County Sheriff’s Office was assisted in the sting operation by the office’s Transport Unit, Jail Division, and Special Operations, the Haralson County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Homeland Security (Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation group), and the Frontline Out of Darkness Response Team. 

Those arrested ranged in age from 18 to 64. Most were Georgia residents; however suspects from Florida and Alabama were also arrested. 

Hovanic’s arrest comes after the co-founder of a charter school in Cleveland, Ohio, was arrested last month in connection with a statewide human trafficking operation. 

According to WKYC in Cleveland, John Zitzner, 68, who co-founded the Breakthrough Charter Schools, was among 160 people arrested in a human trafficking crackdown known as “Operation Buyer’s Remorse.” 

According to a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Zitzner was arrested by the Northeast Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force. He told task force members, “he works in education at Friend of Breakthrough Schools.” 

Court records show Zitzner was arrested Sept. 28 and charged with engaging in prostitution. 

One parent with two children in the charter school called his arrest “disheartening.” 

‘It’s very disheartening to hear, and I think he should get what he deserves,” said Hodges McClain, who has two kids in the school’s Glenville campus. 

“I think these Breakthrough Schools do provide a value for the community and for kids around here, and I think the school should continue to keep doing what they’re doing,” McClain added. 

Local law enforcement officials said the problem of human trafficking is highly prevalent, in particular in the Cleveland area. 

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a big increase because we border two major freeways, we have a lot of commercial business, hotel business in our city, and it’s an opportunity available to these criminals,” Willoughby, Ohio Police Chief James Schultz said. “But we want to shut it down immediately.” 

Meanwhile, Summit County Sheriff Kandy Fatheree said, “I believe that we have to address the johns because if you don’t address them if you don’t hold them accountable, then the crime continues to perpetuate.” 

Board Chair of Friends of Breakthrough, Jeff Berlin, released the following statement, "While this news was unexpected and disturbing, Friends of Breakthrough is a separate organization from the schools, and the resignation does not directly impact staff, schools, or the children served by the schools.

"John Zitzner did not work at any of the Breakthrough Schools; instead, he worked out of the Friends of Breakthrough office, and his role was to meet with community, business, and political leaders to build city-wide support and funding for the schools. While he visited schools on occasion–for example, visiting schools with business, community, and political leaders to garner support for the schools, his role did not involve day-to-day interaction with students.

:At this time, there is no reason to believe he had any inappropriate contact with any students. If any parent were concerned about this, however–or anything, for that matter–they can contact their school’s principal. We always welcome any and all questions and comments from parents in general as part of our core value of open and honest communication.” 

Attorney General Dave Yost told reporters the operation occurred “in every corner of the state,” and “those arrested came from all backgrounds, including an EMT, nurses, educators, retirees, former law enforcement officers, self-employed individuals, delivery drivers and others.” 

The youngest suspect arrested was only 17, while the oldest was 84. This is the complete list. 

Officials said that 149 suspects “seeking to buy sex were arrested and charged with engaging in prostitution. Additional arrests included two individuals for seeking to have sex with minors and six for promoting prostitution. Others were arrested for illegally possessing narcotics and/or firearms, or because there were outstanding warrants against them."

“Nearly 100 law enforcement agencies and service organizations participated in this operation–I am grateful for each and every partner who dedicated their time and resources, as we all play a key role in the fight against human trafficking,” Yost said. “Our message is simple: Don’t buy sex in Ohio!” 

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