RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Dozens of arrests have been made in what authorities are calling the most successful online predator sting in South Carolina.
The Richland County Sheriff's Department led the statewide effort with U.S. Attorney Lydon, the South Carolina Attorney General's Office, U.S. Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement departments across the state. The four-day sting targeted potential child predators preying on children online and grooming them for sex.
"All of us came together during this four day period of time with one mission and that mission was to get these monsters off our streets," Sheriff Leon Lott said.
38 arrests were made as a result of the sting, with men and women facing charges ranging from solicitation of a child to prostitution.
During the sting, an undercover deputy posing as a 13-year-old girl engaged in conversations with adult men. Eventually, they arranged to meet at the teen's home for the purpose of having sex. Once the men arrived though, they were greeted by law enforcement who questioned them, administered polygraph tests and took them into custody.
"Some of them freely admit what they've been doing, what they've done in the past and what they're currently doing," Sheriff Lott said.
12 men were arrested after showing up to the location of the sting anticipating meeting the 13-year-old. An additional six people were arrested based on information and intelligence gathered throughout the sting. The sheriff's department said 15 "Johns" were arrested along with five prostitutes. Those encounters happened took place strictly online with an undercover deputy.
Sheriff Lott said the sting provides parents an example of the importance of monitoring their children's online activity.
"Know what they're doing, who they're friends with, who they're talking to and what social media they're using," he said.
Investigators say child predators don't abide by a particular profile but said all act as master manipulators preying on the innocence of children.
"There isn't a one size fits all," senior investigator Melissa Perry said. "It's all races, all socioeconomic backgrounds."
Children that fall victim don't fit a profile either, according to Perry. However, she said parents should be on alert for any kind of behavior that's out of the ordinary.
Sheriff Lott said more arrests as a result of the operation are forthcoming.