Two Bibb County sheriff’s deputies resigned recently after they were found to have contacted women advertising on a website that has catered to prostitution, records show.
The sheriff’s office began investigating in May after the FBI reported finding that one of the deputy’s personal cellphone numbers was among contacts in a sex trafficking victim’s phone, according to an investigative file The Telegraph obtained Thursday.
Deputies Jeffrey Cranford and Robert Scarborough gave notice of their intent to resign from the sheriff’s office in late September, nearly five months after the FBI notified the sheriff’s office of its findings.
Cranford’s personal cellphone number was found in the sex trafficking victim’s phone during a federal investigation, records show. The sheriff’s office began its internal investigation May 9.
According to a nearly 50-page internal investigation file, the victim told the FBI that Cranford had contacted her “in reference to her Backpage ad stating he was ‘a man in uniform,’ and that ‘if she let him come on a date, he would not tell anyone and would protect her going forward.’ ”
Backpage.com is an online classified site much like Craigslist.com. The site’s adult section has been a clearinghouse for prostitutes and customers seeking their services.
Cranford admitted to texting women he contacted through the website, but he denied having ever met any of them in person.
“It’s just like a thrill thing, kind of like watching porn,” Cranford told a questioning lieutenant, according to records. “You start off talking and saying stuff, then you say, ‘By the way, I work at the sheriff’s office.’ … They either don’t respond or they say, ‘Screw you,’ but after you tell them that, they never want to meet with you anyway, obviously.”
Cranford said he didn’t remember telling anyone on Backpage.com that he would protect them, but he may have done it “in the heat of passion,” according to documents in the file.
Cranford, who failed a polygraph exam in August, admitted having a foot fetish and said he received photos from women he texted, records showed. He also would ask about prices for sex acts, but “that is when he would tell them he was a law enforcement officer,” according to the documents.
Cranford told investigators he had contacted women on the site roughly 25 times and the most recent occasion was earlier this year.
In a July interview, according to a transcript, Cranford said he was embarrassed but “I just never felt like I did anything wrong because I wasn’t actually meeting any of the girls. I was just screwing around with ‘em.”
Cranford said he learned of Backpage.com from Scarborough sometime before consolidation of the Macon Police Department and the Bibb Sheriff’s Office, when the two were working night shifts on patrol.
During an interview, Scarborough told a lieutenant he was familiar with Backpage.com but had only contacted one woman through the website, and it happened several years ago.
Scarborough, of Macon, also said he texted the woman “and told her she was too pretty to be doing what she was doing, and she told me to stop” texting her, records show.
Scarborough told the lieutenant that he only started looking at the website because someone told him a woman he knows was on it, according to the records. He said he continues to check the website for her.
Asked why he would visit the site, knowing what it is and being a law enforcement officer, Scarborough told an investigator: “It’s not illegal to go on there, it’s not illegal if you talk to a prostitute and it’s only illegal if you mess with a prostitute,” according to a summary of the interview.
The results of Scarborough’s polygraph were inconclusive. However, a transcript from the interrogation noted that he became “very frustrated” when asked how often he checked Backpage looking for the woman.
“It doesn’t matter how many times I have contacted anyone on Backpage. All that matters is whether I have sexual contact with them,” Scarborough said. “That should be the only question.”
Scarborough had been working for the sheriff’s office for 14 years. Cranford had worked there 11 years. Oct. 7 was his last day on the job.
“I’m disappointed,” Sheriff David Davis told a Telegraph reporter Thursday afternoon. “These females that are involved in this type of activity, many of them are considered as victims, so when a law enforcement officer comes into contact with them he needs to find out why they’re there and try to figure out a way to get them out of that particular lifestyle ... not get involved in talking to them or potentially having any type of relationship.”