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A cellphone texting sting landed a 36-year-old Pikeville, Tenn., restaurant owner in the Bledsoe County Jail on charges of sexual misconduct with a minor.
Henry L. Smith is charged with sexual exploitation of a minor and soliciting sexual exploitation, Pikeville Police Chief Ronnie Byrd said. Smith owns the Southern Skillet on Main Street. He is free on $20,000 and faces a hearing Aug. 5 in Bledsoe County General Sessions Court, jail officials said on Tuesday.
Smith could not be reached for comment by press time and there was no answer at the restaurant on Tuesday. Officials said Smith has no prior criminal history.
The charge is unusual for Pikeville, said Byrd, a 16-year veteran.
"It's the first case I've ever had on something like this," he said.
Byrd's police report states that a man in his early 20s came to police on July 16 to report that he had an unwanted encounter with Smith at his restaurant while applying for a job.
As the man filled out an application, Smith inappropriately touched him, upsetting the man and causing him to leave, Byrd's report states.
The man showed officers more than 35 text messages from Smith sent between July 12 and 16, the report states. "Smith's text messages included apologies, Smith's admissions of wrongdoing, job offers, pictures of money" and sexually-related remarks and a request to "come by Smith's house."
Byrd, other officers and TBI special agent Jeffrey Sills "agreed that although [the man] was 22 years old, he appeared to still be in high school," Byrd states in the report. "With that in mind, ... Sills texted Smith that [the man's] '16-year-old brother' wanted to make some money."
When communications with Smith resumed, the "16-year-old brother" was actually Sills.
A series of texts followed, including requests for nude photos of the "teen," and a proposition to pay the adult and "teen" $40 each for sexual favors, the report states.
When Smith texted about meeting them behind the old Bledsoe County Jail, police stopped his Ford Mustang nearby, the report states. Officers reportedly asked Smith if he knew why he'd been stopped.
Smith reportedly answered, "It's where I was texting that boy."
When prompted further by the officers, Smith continued, "I wasn't going to do anything with him, because he was under-aged," the report states.
12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor said charges could be updated as the case proceeds.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...