ELIZABETHTON — A sheriff is usually too well known to get involved in undercover work. However, Sheriff Chris Mathes said he took advantage of faceless electronic communication Friday to pose as a teenage girl and lure a man suspected of having intimate relations with a real 14-year-old girl.
John Russell Welsch, 33, 132 Fox Road, Johnson City, was arrested Friday on six counts of aggravated statutory rape. He is scheduled to answer the charges in Sessions Court on Sept. 20.
“This was such a disturbing case,” Mathes said. He said he decided to personally get involved in the case after reviewing the history of the conversations between Welsch and the girl.
“This was a case of a 33-year-old man taking advantage of a child,” Mathes said.
Mathes said his office received a complaint about the relationship on Friday. The girl was interviewed by investigators and gave a detailed description of the various encounters she had with the man she described as the father of one of her friends.
Armed with the information provided by the girl and the history of the conversations, Mathes began to correspond with the suspect, posing as the victim. Their texting took place for much of Friday afternoon. The sheriff said the conversations led up to Welsch’s agreement to pick the girl up at Chick-fil-A and ended in what Mathes called an “explicit conversation” of what they were going to do.
When the man arrived at the restaurant, deputies were waiting for him. He was taken to the sheriff’s department, where he was mirandized and interviewed. Sgt. Todd Hamm and Chief Deputy Ron Street conducted the interview.
Hamm said Welsch confessed that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with the 14-year-old on six occasions. He said the first time was on his birthday, July 29. The last time was on Aug. 7 or 8. He said five of the incidents took place at his residence. The other took place in his vehicle on Greenlee Road. Mathes said Welsch’s account matched the account given by the girl.
Welsch was released on $60,000 bond.