SEARCY, Ark. – An apartment complex was shaken Wednesday morning after an arrest was made Tuesday that officials say was a long time coming.
Tenants of Briarwood Apartments in Searcy said they were shocked to find out about the arrest of apartment manager Thomas Kelso. Others say they were direct targets of his abuse.
“It makes me sick. I have kids that live here, I don’t know I was in shock,” resident Heather Martin said.
Tenants like Martin said the landlord has been shutting off their power without an explanation for months, causing their families to suffer in silence.
“I don’t have much dealing with him so, it’s been more like, ‘Hey can you cut the lights back on’,” Martin said. “Cause every month they get shut off. It doesn’t matter if we’re late or early.”
Just two years ago, KARK 4 News visited the same complex after receiving several complaints of no electricity and air. Tesha Aguilar a tenant that KARK 4 News spoke with then and she said she’s happy things have finally come to light.
“It had to be stopped,” Martin said. “It’s been a lot going on out here and trying to find another place to live is difficult.”
Aguilar said she was also threatened by Kelso.
“He hasn’t touched me physically no, but just the comments that’s been to me from him,” Auguilar said.
Searcy Police Chief Steve Hernandez said Kelso threatened several tenants by taking away their utilities if they did not perform sexual favors.
“There’s a misconception that under the human trafficking charge, he’s kidnapping people and holding them hostage. That’s not necessarily the case,” Hernandez said. “With Mr. Kelso, he’s using things like power, like electric power and drugs to hold over their heads to get the sexual favors.”
Kelso is facing a number of charges, including three counts of human trafficking and possession of fentanyl and meth with the purpose to deliver.
58-year-old Lori Leavell was also arrested who officials said is facing charges as an accessory to Kelso’s crimes.
“She was actually helping Mr. Kelso get these females to perform these acts,” Hernandez said. “As of last night, we’ve actually added the charge of rape to Mr. Kelso and she was involved in that as well.”
Tenants said they are relieved that evidence of their mistreatment has come forward and hopes justice can finally be served.
“I would like to see justice come to him cause this is not right,” Aguilar said. “We shouldn’t be afraid to come out of our apartments whether he’s on the premises or not.”
According to Hernandez, at least 20 more victims have come forward since this story aired. He said once their statements are documented, they will account for more charges.