Raleigh, NC – 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. Seven of those arrested traveled for the purpose of meeting and having sex with a minor. The joint proactive operation, Operation Southern Impact III, was coordinated by 10 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) 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.
The arrestees’ range in age from 20 to 70 years old. Some of their occupations included restaurant employee, firefighter, shipping company employee, small business owner, railroad company employee, store clerk, IT specialist, youth minister, construction worker, graphic designer and students. During the operation, 134 search warrants were executed, and 215 knock and talks were conducted in those eight (8) 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, online 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 advanced 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, and 13 new task force officer training courses geared towards complex digital investigations.
North Carolina ICAC Task Force Commander Alan K. Flora stated, “Much of what the ICAC Task Force does happens quietly, with little or no information about our work released to the press because of the sensitive investigations of crimes against young children. It’s often impossible to tell our stories without revealing the identities of minors who have already been through traumatic events. This three-day operation provides a snapshot of the work that the ICAC Task Force is doing round the clock, seven days per week. Predators are real, and they walk among us. The ICAC Task Force works diligently every day to stop those who prey on our most innocent citizens.”
North Carolina agencies participating in the operation were the NC SBI, Homeland Security Investigations (Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Cary offices), United States Probation, United States Marshals Service, United States Attorney’s Office – Middle District NC, Cary Police Department, Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, Randolph County Sheriff’s Office, Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, Avery County Sheriff’s Office, Gastonia Police Department, Forest City Police Department, Transylvania Police Department, Mayodan Police Department, Catawba County Sheriff’s Office, Winston-Salem Police Department, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, Stokes County Sheriff’s Office, Carolina Beach Police Department, Greensboro Police Department, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Waynesville Police Department and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.
North Carolina officers executed nine search warrants and conducted 38 knock and talks during the three-day operation. This resulted in six arrests on charges pertaining to the sexual exploitation of minors. Investigations in those cases are ongoing, details of the arrests will be made at the local level by the agencies directly involved.
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 want to reinforce to those who exploit children that the ICAC Task Forces will work tirelessly 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 the common goal is the protection of children. Operation Southern Impact III has given law enforcement an opportunity to share experience, information and resources across units, agencies, and state lines to make sure there is no safe place for criminals to hide who would victimize the most vulnerable among us.
The National ICAC Task Force Program consists of over 4,000 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, 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.
Joshua Hall, Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, charged with indecent liberties with a minor
Christopher John Authement, arrested in Nash County by SBI, charged with 2nd degree sexual exploitation of a minor (limited information, part of an ongoing investigation)
George Beall, Homeland Security Investigations – Charlotte, charged with federal probation violations, possession of child pornography
David Kimball, Cary Police Department, charged with sexual exploitation of a minor
Paul Sullivan, Cary Police Department, charged with sexual exploitation of a minor