A Mercer County man and another man from a Cleveland suburb are the latest to be arrested in Columbiana County as part of an ongoing undercover sex trafficking sting that has resulted in more than 400 arrests in nearly three years.

Thirty-seven-year-old Salim Basalat of Sharon, and 63-year-old Michael Durant of Solon, Ohio were arrested on Thursday in East Palestine by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force.

An agent says the men responded to undercover ads posted by the task force on websites used in the sex trade. An undercover agent with the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force calls this effort a "demand reduction operation."

"What we want to do is we want to stop the flow of guys coming to see the females who are potentially being trafficked, or even trafficking themselves out of compulsion," said the agent. "Over the course of time, we do see the decrease in the number of men that are posting for the females and the number of men that are coming for the females," he said. 

According to court documents, the suspects were arrested in the village when they showed up at an appointed place and time, each having $200, and the mobile phones agents say were used to set up the appointments.

Basalat and Durant were each charged with engaging in prostitution and possessing criminal tools. Basalat was also charged with procuring since he allegedly was seeking a “threesome” for himself, his brother, and a prostitute.

Both men pleaded “not guilty” to the charges and face further hearings in Columbiana County Municipal Court.

According to court records, 409 arrests on charges of engaging in prostitution have been made in the county since June 2021.  Most of the arrests have been made in East Palestine and Salem.

"Is it ever going to stop? No, but we understand that but the ultimate goal is to you know, reduce that number to stop the large customer flow," said the undercover agent. "The type of guys we see come from all walks of life. We've charged police officers, we've charged firefighters, we've charged attorneys, we've charged physicians, we get a lot of narcotics, it's a narcotics filled industry," he said.

The agent urges buyers of sex to stop and think because they're feeding the pockets of drug dealers and traffickers and he says they will be caught.

The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force says on its Facebook page that it is dedicated to eradicating what it calls "modern-day slavery and protecting our children from sexual predators."