18 arrested after allegedly trying to contact minors online for sex in Northern California
Eighteen people were arrested in an undercover operation after they allegedly attempted to contact minors online for sex and other related crimes in Sacramento County, law enforcement officials announced Friday.
During the investigation called Operation Secret Admirer, the suspects were in contact with undercover officers who posed as children as young as 13, according to authorities. The operation was conducted between mid-February and March 1.
“These are very bad people we got off the streets,” Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper said during a press conference posted on Facebook. “There’s a whole lot more out there.”
The operation was conducted by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and investigators from the California Department of Justice, along with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and multiple law enforcement agencies in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and San Joaquin counties.
“Today’s announcement makes it clear that child sexual abuse will not be tolerated,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said in a statement. “I have a simple message for all those who target children for sex online: If you go after children in California, we’ll go after you.”
The former San Diego County educator is being held at a detention facility without bail.
The suspects arrested during the operation sent undercover agents explicit photos and messages with explicit language. Many of the arrests included individuals who allegedly attempted to meet the undercover agents, thinking they were underage children, authorities said.
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brandon Gayman, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said the suspects during the investigation were repeatedly told they were speaking to a minor.
“That’s even continuously referenced in other things like them being in school or doing homework,” Gayman said.
The investigation was initially planned for three days, but it expanded as law enforcement sought suspects who contacted undercover officers.
Dr. Bruce Hensel, once NBC’s chief on-air medical correspondent, pleads no contest to charges that he solicited nude pictures from a 9-year-old girl.
Some of the suspects were also in contact with multiple undercover officers during the weeks-long operation, Gayman said.
“That tells us right there that these folks are out there looking for children,” he said. “We do anticipate that these suspects have contacted other minors out in the community.”
Online grooming and enticement of underage victims can be found in multiple online platforms, including social media, messaging apps and games, according to the state attorney general’s office.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four girls and one in 13 boys in the United States experience sexual abuse.
Investigation targeted sites where sex customers lined up like at a ‘fast-food drive-through’
During Operation Better Pathways, 16 people were identified as suspected victims of trafficking, including eight children ages 13 to 17.
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