Hart man sentenced to probation in child trafficking case

December 12, 2023

Steven Volpp, left, and his attorney, Jeffrey West.

Hart man sentenced to probation in child trafficking case

Convictions are under review by appeals court 

By Allison Scarbrough, News Editor

LUDINGTON — One of three men arrested in a child trafficking sting operation last August was sentenced to five years probation in 51st Circuit Court Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Steven Wayne Volpp, 58, of Hart, pleaded guilty to a felony of accosting a child for immoral purposes and a misdemeanor of engaging in prostitution services, Oct. 24. One felony count of using a computer to commit a crime was dismissed.

Co-defendant Kenneth John Smith, 53, pleaded “no contest” Nov. 14 to using a computer to commit a crime and a misdemeanor of engaging in prostitution services. A felony charge of accosting a child for immoral purposes will be dismissed. Smith’s sentencing is set for Jan 9 at 2:30 p.m.

A third co-defendant Gabriel Talevich, 20, of Wyoming, Michigan, pleaded guilty as charged to accosting a child for immoral purposes, using a computer to commit a crime and engaging in prostitution services, Oct. 17, and was sentenced Nov. 28. Talevich’s sentencing is non-public.

Volpp had no prior criminal history.

“I agree probation is appropriate, but the length should be five years,” said Mason County Assistant Prosecutor Beth Hand.

“My client fully accepts his responsibility and is very remorseful,” said Volpp’s attorney Jeffrey West. The attorney said his client “made a serious error,” but cited a “bait-and-switch issue with the investigation” that is being reviewed by an appeals court. 

“There was an ad put on a site called Skip the Games which is an adult site. He wasn’t looking for a 15 year old.”

West said Volpp was seeking oral sex from an adult female. “From the time this began, the hook had been set. My client fully recognizes that he was guilty and should have put on the breaks and rejected making this an issue.”

“He has supporters in the audience,” said West, including his wife and parents. “He’s thankful for the support of family and friends.” 

“I’m sorry for what I did to the community,” said Volpp. “I hope I get a chance to go forward from here.”

“Some of the things this case highlights is how quickly lives can change from the Internet,” said Judge Susan K. Sniegowski. “You walked right into it. The danger is you don’t have any idea of who you’re talking to online. We need to protect our children from who they’re talking to online.”

Volpp was also sentenced to three days in jail with credit for three days served.

Accosting a child for immoral purposes is punishable by up to four years in prison; using a computer to commit a crime is punishable by four to 10 years in prison (depending on the crime that was committed); and engaging in prostitution services carries a maximum term of up to 93 days in jail.

Following a two-week investigation, the three men were arrested in a child sex trafficking sting Aug. 10 at Suttons Landing, where the men each thought they were meeting up with a 15-year-old child for the purposes of engaging in sexual activity, previously stated Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole. 

The operation was a collaboration with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office human trafficking team GHOST (Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team) and also included cooperation with the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office and SSCENT (State, Sheriff’s, Chief’s Enforcement of Narcotics Team). 

“This operation involved the suspects engaging in online chatting with a person they believed to be a 15-year-old,” Sheriff Cole said. “Make no mistake, those arrested knew full well the age of the person being solicited. After a price for services was established, a meeting was set up at Sutton’s Landing on Iris Road in Pere Marquette Township. 

Editor-in-Chief Rob Alway contributed to this article.

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