HENRICO Co., Va. - A local Naval officer has been arrested and charged with commercial sex trafficking.
Last Thursday, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Cranston Jr. was arrested at a Norfolk base. He’s currently being held in Henrico County on no bond.
According to a warrant obtained by News 3, law enforcement believes this all took place around November 2.
Navy officials told News 3 Cranston, 45, is currently assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
News 3’s I-Team has been digging deeper into the issue of human trafficking in Hampton Roads and around the Commonwealth.
“I think people have perceptions based on movies, TV shows, things like that, as to what a pimp looks like or to what a sex trafficker looks like,” Michael Feinmel, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney for the Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office told News 3. “There is no mold.”
Feinmel is one of the prosecutors on Cranston’s case. While not commenting on the specific case, he said law enforcement have been keeping close tabs on human trafficking.
"These are people that have had their freedom taken away and are living really disturbing lives,” Feinmel said.
“Some days, VICE officers will just work on focusing on smaller units, or individuals that are engaging in prostitution,” he added when talking about enforcement. “Other days, they spend on their computers trying to look for a larger cell.”
Enforcement can take many angles, from door knocks and hotel visits to monitoring sites across the web.
“The big elephant was called Backpage.com. For eight or so years of us doing this kind of work, [it] was where 90-plus percent of the sex trafficking took place,” Feinmel said. “When you looked at it, initially, it would look like Craigslist. There was one section where it was framed as a personal section, but very quickly morphed into people that hypothetically were looking for dates. But all of the dates include references for money [or] for services rendered.”
Feinmel said once Backpage.com was shut down by authorities, the demand did not disappear.
“They were disbursed off a number of sites. Some of them you have heard of,” he said. “Some of them are Craigslist, even Grindr, MocoSpace - some of the more common websites. Some are a little more covert.”
Overall, he believes a more uniform approach is needed in Virginia in terms of law enforcement strategies and resources for victims.
“A lot of the metropolitan areas - or at least the three major metropolitan areas in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Northern Virginia, [the] Tidewater area and Richmond area - all three have that same dynamic,” Feinmel said. “We're central on the east coast. We're an intermediate stopping area between New York and Miami. We have a high military presence, which also creates a lot of transients.”
“In Henrico County, we will find that people will come from California, Las Vegas and Seattle to engage in prostitution,” he added. “The reputation is that Virginia and Central Virginia and the Tidewater area are all areas where there's a lot of money to be made in the area of prostitution.”
We reached out to the Navy for comment on the arrest, and they responded:
“We can confirm Lt. Cmdr. Charles Cranston was taken into custody by the Henrico Police Department on Nov. 18. The Navy takes this matter seriously and is fully cooperating with law enforcement. For questions regarding the investigation, please contact the Henrico Police Department.”
The Henrico County Police Division’s VICE Unit is leading the investigation, which began in early November. Detectives assigned to the case are working alongside the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
Currently, details on the case are limited as police are continuing to conduct a thorough investigation.
Cranston's next court date, a status hearing, is on December 10. News 3 is told that's when a preliminary hearing date will be set. Prosecutors told News 3 the expectations for that date are for sometime in early 2022.
Related: After Va. Beach pastor arrested for solicitation of prostitution, human trafficking in Hampton Roads investigated