Sunflower Market CEO resigns after Phoenix arrest

PHOENIX - The CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market has resigned after his arrest in Phoenix Thursday.

According to a company news release, Michael Gilliland resigned from his executive positions and from the company board of directors.

Sunflower's president and COO, Chris Sherrell, was named acting chief executive by the board of directors. He has been with Sunflower since it was formed in 2002.

"Sunflower appreciates the respect that Mr. Gilliland has shown for the company by his action, so that his personal affairs will not affect the company," Sherrell said in the news release.

Gilliland was taken into custody at a hotel near Metro Center Mall in Phoenix as he allegedly tried to meet a 13-year-old girl for sexual intercourse. Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos said Gilliland solicited sex online with a female who had identified herself as being a minor.

He then allegedly arranged a meeting with the girl and agreed to pay her. Gilliland was arrested by detectives for one count of felony child prostitution, Martos said.

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

According to the Sunflower Farmers Market news release, Gilliland told the company "that he believes he is not guilty of the charges brought against him, and that he expects to be exonerated."

Sherrell said the change in management will not affect Sunflower's operations or its plans for expansion. The chain has 32 stores in California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Texas.

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