crimesider

Michael Gilliland Arrested: Wild Oats Founder Nabbed in Phoenix Child Prostitution Sting

Michael Gilliland (CBS/KPHO)
Michael Gilliland Arrested: Wild Oats Founder Nabbed in Phoenix Child Prostitution Sting
Michael Gilliland (CBS/KPHO)

(CBS/KPHO) The founder of two chains of natural foods grocery stores has resigned after he was arrested in a child prostitution sting in Phoenix.

Michael Gilliland resigned as CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market, which has locations in seven states. He also founded Wild Oats Markets Inc., which was acquired by Whole Foods Market in 2007.

Gilliland was one of eight men arrested Thursday in the sting.

According to CBS affiliate KPHO, Gilliland was caught in an operation carried out by the Phoenix Police Department. Police said Gilliland and others solicited sex from someone they thought was an underage girl, then drove to a local hotel where officers were waiting for them.

Sunflower said Gilliland told the company he believes he is not guilty. He could not be reached Saturday on his cell phone.

Sunflower's president and COO, Chris Sherrell, has been named acting chief executive.

The other men arrested in the sting were Brandon Murillo, Jose Pacheco, Phillip Dominguez, Travis Russell, Rudy Burns, Sheldon Yazzie, and Anthony Meisner. They range in age from 27 to 52-years-old.

Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos said the bust shows that sex crimes pervade all neighborhoods, races and income levels. "It can be people from various walks of life, from various backgrounds and various job positions," he told KPHO.