Former Champaign police officer charged with soliciting sex

Former Champaign police officer charged with soliciting sex

URBANA — A former Champaign police officer who allegedly offered to pay a prostitute to have sex with him earlier this summer has been charged with soliciting a sex act.

Joe Ketchem, 50, who was the department's liquor-enforcement officer, has been sent a summons to appear in Champaign County Circuit Court on Nov. 29 to be arraigned.

Ketchem was a sergeant earning more than $103,300 annually prior to his Aug. 19 retirement, which came after the solicitation allegations surfaced.

State's Attorney Julia Rietz filed the Class A misdemeanor against the 21-year Champaign police veteran in state court Thursday.

Ketchem's name surfaced in a federal investigation as local police were investigating a Springfield man for alleged sex trafficking in Champaign County.

Franshon Stapleton, 46, has been in federal custody since May 17, charged with sex trafficking. He's accused of arranging for women to have sex for pay and getting a cut of what they made.

Arrested in connection with that ring was Katelyn Curtis, 27, who lived with Stapleton in Champaign motels while allegedly assisting his operation. She pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Urbana in  September to conspiracy and the use of a facility of interstate commerce (phones and the internet) to assist in racketeering. Her sentencing is set for January. She remains in custody.

Rietz said the Department of Homeland Security examined Curtis' cellphone as part of its investigation into Backpage.com, a website that was shut down by the Department of Justice in April for allegedly facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking.

The phone exam revealed a series of text messages between Ketchem and Curtis between June 13 and 30 in which Ketchem suggests sexual intercourse and negotiates payment and arrangements, Rietz said.

Rietz said the messages did not occur while he was on duty, but in light of his employment, Champaign police asked that the Illinois State Police investigate.

State troopers learned that two women met Ketchem in the spring of 2018 at various hotels in Champaign County for sex in exchange for money. One of those women knew he was a Champaign police officer, Rietz said.

If Ketchem is convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, the maximum penalty he faces is 364 days in the county jail.

Champaign police Chief Anthony Cobb issued a brief statement through his spokesman saying that his department cooperated with the state police investigation into Ketchem's off-duty activities.

"The allegations are troubling and in no way reflect the values and standards expected of a Champaign Police Department employee," he said.

In documents obtained by The News-Gazette concerning Ketchem's employment, a "termination checklist" said Ketchem declined to participate in an exit interview. Additionally, he opted to take a $100 gift card offered for his retirement rather than a plaque. 

Ketchem had been a sergeant since 2002 and for several years was in a position of training other officers. Prior to being hired in Champaign, he worked for the Bond County Sheriff's Office in Greenville for seven years.

Stapleton's federal case is tentatively set to be tried by a jury in April in Urbana. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

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