82 arrested in multi-state child exploitation op: Operation Southern Impact III
Published 12:00 pm Saturday, May 4, 2019
DECATUR — A total of 82 people were arrested, and 17 children were rescued or identified as victims during a mutually coordinated operation between eight southeastern states. The joint, proactive operation, Operation Southern Impact III, was coordinated by 10 Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in those eight states and focused on persons who possess and distribute child pornography and those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet. The planning for Operation Southern Impact III began approximately four months ago and culminated in three days of investigative actions to include
search warrant executions, undercover operations, arrests and sex offender compliance verification visits in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. A total of 171 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies participated in the operation.
Among the agencies involved were the Americus Police Department, the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, the Department of Community Supervision, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Secret Service.
The arrestees ranged in age from 20 to 70. Some of their occupations included non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, youth group leader, former high school band director, freelance photographer, construction worker, and painter. During the operation, 134 search warrants were executed, and 215 knock and talks were conducted in those eight states. During those search warrants and knock and talks, 861 digital devices were previewed and 1,613 digital devices were seized. Of those devices seized 203 were mobile phones.
These investigative actions resulted from both reactive cases such as cybertips received by each ICAC Task Force from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and proactive cases such as peer-to-peer investigations and proactive, on-line undercover investigations. Daily each task force receives numerous cybertips from NCMEC related to online child exploitation. During Operation Southern Impact III, the investigations related to 248 cybertips were progressed through the execution of these search warrants and knock and talks, and through the seizure of digital devices which will be forensically processed in the coming
weeks. There were 22 internet safety presentations or related events held during the operation as well.
The continued collaboration among the national network of ICAC Task Forces is one of the most successful partnerships in the history of law enforcement. The 61 ICAC Task Forces across the country are working cases and conducting investigative actions like these every day. The Commanders of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in these states wanted to reinforce to those who harm and exploit children that the ICAC Task Forces will tirelessly work together to make an impact in their respective states and the region as a whole.
The cooperation among agencies and among states illustrates their level of commitment to detect, arrest, and prosecute child predators. Cooperation is always important in law enforcement, but it is never more important than when we set out to protect children. Operation Southern Impact III has given us an opportunity to share experience, information, and resources across units, agencies, and state lines, to make sure that there is no safe place to hide for criminals who would victimize the most vulnerable.
In Georgia, 31 people were arrested during Operation Southern Impact III. Most of those arrests involved the possession and/or distribution of child pornography. While investigators regularly target the trading of all types of child pornography, in Operation Southern Impact III investigators targeted those seeking out and distributing the most violent sexual abuse material involving infants and toddlers. The possession, distribution and production of these horrific images is not uncommon. The Georgia ICAC Task Force consistently finds this
type of content. Special Agent in Charge of the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit and Commander of the Georgia ICAC Task Force, Debbie Garner, stated that “the dedicated law enforcement professionals that are part of the Georgia ICAC Task Force will not cease searching for those who are producing, trading and collecting this graphic material. We will continue to work together to find, investigate and prosecute these predators.”
Seven of those arrested in Georgia traveled for the purpose of meeting and having sex with a minor. A goal of the operation was to arrest persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls.
During the operation, four registered sex offenders were encountered and arrested in Georgia on charges related to child pornography. One of the registered sex offenders arrested during Operation Southern Impact III was initially arrested by the GBI during a very similar operation in 2015.
Additionally, as part of Operation Southern Impact III, Department of Community Supervision (DCS) Officers across the state, working with numerous local law enforcement agencies, conducted searches and attempted warrant service on sex offenders that had violated the terms of their supervision. As a result of their efforts, 1,153 searches and 93 arrests were completed. Eight firearms, as well as ammunition, pornographic material, drugs, and drug paraphernalia, were located during the searches. Of those arrested, 32 were under supervision for a computer-related sex offense. DCS is an active member of the Georgia ICAC Task Force.
Everyday DCS Officers work diligently in their communities to provide opportunities for successful outcomes, while holding offenders accountable.
In Georgia, a total of 56 search warrants were executed and 41 knock and talks were conducted during Operation Southern Impact III. Law enforcement officers conducting the searches were looking for evidence of possession and distribution of child pornography using the internet as well as evidence of other child exploitation related crimes. Over the course of the operation, 305 digital devices were examined on site and 972 digital media and devices were seized as evidence. During these searches, illegal drugs and firearms were found as well.
Those arrested in Georgia were charged with crimes pursuant to O.C.G.A. 16-12-100.2, Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007. Additional charges are likely and other arrests will occur after analysis of seized digital devices.
The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of 230+ local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U. S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases.
This support encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, prevention and community education. The ICAC Program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims. By helping state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective and sustainable responses to online child victimization and
child pornography, the ICAC program delivers national resources at the local level.
The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 244 arrests in 2015. In 2016, the Georgia ICAC Task Force arrested 340 persons. In 2017, the Georgia ICAC Task Force arrested 350 people for crimes related on online child exploitation. In 2018, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 307 arrests. The Georgia ICAC TF received almost 5,000 tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2018.