76 people have been arrested in a multi-state sting operation that focused on capturing those who engage in the sexual exploitation of minors, especially infants and toddlers.
“While investigators regularly target the trading of all types of child pornography, in Operation Southern Impact II, investigators targeted those seeking out and distributing the most violent child pornography involving infants and toddlers,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigations said in a statement.
“The Commanders of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in these states wanted to reinforce to those who exploit children that the ICAC (Internet Crimes Against Children) Task Forces will work together to make an impact in their respective states and the region as a whole.”
According to reports, the bust involved more than 200 law enforcement agencies and spanned eight southeastern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Many of those arrested were charged with possession of child pornography or the distribution of child pornography, and some were charged with traveling with the intent to have sex with a minor.
The youngest taken into custody was 17 and the oldest was 73. Those arrested included a postal worker, a mechanic, a magician, a construction worker, a truck driver, a restaurant worker, an online tutor, a foster parent, a church daycare administrator and a church youth director. An undocumented immigrant who identifies as a traveling “pastor” was also taken into custody.
Nearly half—34—of those arrested were from Georgia. 13 children were identified or rescued in the operation. The investigation also led to information on those in other states—Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee—and the leads were passed on to task forces in those jurisdictions.
“During the operation, 136 search warrants were executed and 100 knock and talks were conducted in those eight states. During those search warrants and knock and talks, 736 digital devices were previewed and 1,255 digital devices were seized. Of those devices seized 235 were mobile phones,” the Daily Reflector reports.
The sting, called Operation Southern Impact II, began four months ago, and concluded with two days of search warrants and arrests.
“Operation Southern Impact II highlights the types of investigations ICAC task force officers deal with on a daily basis. It is important to understand that people who prey on children walk among us everywhere. They are in our schools, our churches, and hidden in plain sight in all of our neighborhoods,” North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations Special Agent in Charge Alan Flora said in a statement.
“Many of them believe that they are operating anonymously on the internet, but I assure you they can be caught when adequate resources are committed to that cause,” he said. “The ICAC task force is relentless in our determination to expose and remove those who prey on our most vulnerable and precious citizens. We are fighting a battle that never ends, but we never quit.”
There are a reported 61 ICAC task forces nationwide, who conduct investigations on a daily basis. According to the Georgia ICAC, 350 people were arrested in the state last year for child exploitation, with 4,000 tips coming from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.