GARDEN PLAIN — Seven people — including Garden Plain High School football coach Todd Puetz — have been arrested in a law enforcement operation targeting human trafficking, authorities announced today.
The arrests were made late Friday and Saturday nights, Wichita police Capt. Brent Allred said.
The special operation was conducted in response to a surge in the number of human trafficking cases in Wichita over the past couple of years, he said.
"It was a pro-active assignment due to the issues and problems that we have with child sexual predators in our community," Allred said at a briefing held by police.
"I'd like to say it's successful, but it's really not, because when you get this many people, it's kind of a sad commentary of what's in our community.
"When you arrest this many people, you know it's a problem."
Five of the men are from Wichita, one from Garden Plain and one from Hays, he said. They range in age from 25 to 59.
All of them communicated electronically with someone they thought was an underage girl —"and the contents were of a sexual nature" — and all seven made an attempt to meet with a girl for sex, Allred said.
Another four people are under investigation and could be arrested later, Allred said.
He declined to offer many details about how the operation was conducted because authorities plan to do more of them.
The Garden Plain coach and teacher has been suspended from all duties, school district superintendent Tracy Bourne said today.
Although he would not release the coach and teacher's name, arrest records show that it was Puetz, 39.
"We did have an incident over the weekend... one of our staff members was arrested," Bourne said. "That staff member has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation."
The teacher/coach is on administrative leave with pay, Bourne said.
Because he is a teacher, Allred said, authorities will be looking into whether he was engaged in crimes in Garden Plain. Police will be investigating the backgrounds of the other men arrested as well.
A relative of Puetz, who asked that her name not be used, said his family is "very supportive" of him.
"It's just not all black-and-white," she said, standing on the front porch of his home. "We're just waiting for other things to come to light."
Records show the others arrested in the operation were:
* Viraqd Weerappumac, 51, Wichita
* Reginald Shepard, 35, Wichita
* Joshua Hetzel, 26, Wichita
* David Walter, 59, Hays
* Chris Squires, 25, Wichita
* Kyle Miller, 25, Wichita
The two-day operation was a month in the making and involved the FBI, the Internet Crimes Against Children task force, the Wichita/Sedgwick County Exploited and Missing Child Unit, Wichita police and Sedgwick County sheriff's officers, Allred said.
Federal charges could result from the arrests, he said. Investigators will be meeting with the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office later this week or early next week to present evidence in the cases.