“Operation Interception” Targets Those Seeking Sex with a Minor – 21 Arrested in Five-Day Undercover Operation
As a result of a proactive undercover investigation coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes (CEACC) Unit, Brookhaven Police Department, DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, and United States Marshals Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force, 21 people were arrested over a five-day period beginning Wednesday, January 30, 2019. Those arrested were charged with O.C.G.A. 16-12-100.2, Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007 and/or O.C.G.A 16-5-46, Trafficking of Persons for Labor or Sexual Servitude. Additional charges and arrests may be forthcoming.
“Operation Interception” was centered in Brookhaven, DeKalb County, GA. The operation took several months of planning. Most of the arrestees, ranging in age from 20 to 55, traveled from areas around metropolitan Atlanta with the intent to meet a child for sex. Multiple people were arrested who were in possession of suspected illegal drugs. Twenty-four digital devices were seized as evidence and processed during the operation.
The goal of “Operation Interception” was to arrest persons who communicate with children on-line, have sexually explicit conversations, and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Additionally, the operation targeted those who are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor. On-line child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and ultimately arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested over 130 people in similar operations.
The proactive on-line investigation was a coordinated effort among the participating law enforcement agencies to combat this activity. Brookhaven Police have a strong warning to would-be child predators: “Our message is simple: if you think you’re coming to Brookhaven to meet a child for sex, you’re likely to find us instead. This behavior will never be tolerated here.” GBI Special Agent in Charge, and Commander of the Georgia ICAC Task Force, Debbie Garner, remarked, “The Brookhaven Police Department is one of our most active member agencies. We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation. This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a true partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
During “Operation Interception,” the Georgia ICAC Task Force conducted proactive online undercover investigations utilizing sites that are known to be used to advertise for the sex industry. The investigators made one arrest as a result of investigations conducted on these sites. This arrest involved a monetary component and the person arrested was charged with human trafficking violations for arranging to purchase sex with a minor. This was a marked decrease compared to similar operations in the past.
Prior to Super Bowl LIII, there were heavy media campaigns that were focused on deterring those who want to purchase sex with a minor. Additionally, there was a massive effort by law enforcement, non-profit organizations, and victims’ services organizations to educate the public and various industries about the indicators of human trafficking. This could be one reason for the decrease in demand activity related to these specific sites during “Operation Interception.”
Investigators also conducted proactive undercover investigations using applications frequented by adults to find casual sexual partners. The investigators made 20 arrests as a result of utilizing standard dating and social media applications. Those arrested had sexually explicit conversations with whom they believed to be a child and most of those arrested traveled to meet a child for sex. While there was a monetary component to several of these cases, most often there was no monetary component involved.
Although some websites promote themselves as being for “adults-only,” it is not uncommon for law enforcement to work cases in which children access these sites, establish profiles claiming to be older, and then find themselves vulnerable to victimization, harassment, blackmail, or assault. Several subjects were identified as communicating simultaneously with multiple investigators posing as minors. Such activity confirms what investigators uncover conducting these types of investigations: that many predators specifically seek out minors on such websites to groom them as potential victims for sexual contact. This is an everyday threat to children and the Georgia ICAC Task Force continues to work these types of investigations every day across the State of Georgia.
Over the course of the operation, over 63 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest. Twenty-one of those cases were concluded with arrests. During the multi-day operation, investigators had close to 200 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms. Many of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact and even after discovering they were conversing with a minor, directed the conversation towards sex. In some of those cases, the subject introduced obscene or lude content, often exposing the minor (law enforcement officer) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them.
Along with those agencies that participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, 22 additional law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation Interception” as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were:
- Bartow County Sheriff’s Office
- Cobb County Sheriff’s Office
- Columbus Police Department
- Conyers Police Department
- Coweta County Sheriff’s Office
- DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office
- Federal Bureau of Investigation – MATCH Task Force
- Floyd County Police Department
- Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office
- GBI-Georgia Cyber Crime Center (GBI-G3C)
- GBI-Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GBI-GISAC)
- Georgia Department of Community Supervision
- Glynn County Police Department
- Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office
- Hall County Sheriff’s Office
- Lilburn Police Department
- Marietta Police Department
- Mississippi Analysis and Information Center (MSAIC)
- Polk County Police Department
- Savannah Police Department
- U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations
- Woodstock Police Department
GBI’s Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GBI-GISAC) normally dedicates multiple analysts to drive the intelligence functions at ICAC Task Force operations. This week, GBI-GISAC was working in numerous support capacities across the city in preparation for Super Bowl LIII and had limited personnel to dedicate solely to “Operation Interception.” To solve manpower issues while ensuring effective support to all efforts, GBI-GISAC requested assistance from the Mississippi Fusion Center. Specialized analysts from Mississippi, GBI-GISAC, and Brookhaven PD worked side by side to fulfill the task force’s intelligence needs and identify subjects.
During the operation, Brookhaven PD utilized license plate reader (LPR) technology to more quickly locate previously identified predators as they entered the city limits. Through a partnership with Georgia Power and Vigilant Solutions technologies, Brookhaven PD has nearly 50 LPR cameras located throughout the city. “Using this technology, our officers were alerted the moment an already identified target entered the city, assisting with their ultimate apprehension,” said Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura.
The following were arrested and charged in DeKalb County as part of “Operation Interception”:
- Nicholas Alexander Bowen, B/M, Chamblee, GA, 29, ride sharing and delivery driver
- Thomas Cheung, A/M, Alpharetta, GA, 32, gaming studio employee
- Jeshua Elijah Collins, B/M, Suwannee, GA, 22, deli clerk
- James Tunde Fadeyi, B/M Lithonia, GA 55, unemployed
- Walter Gonzalez-Amaya, H/M, Norcross, GA, 22, maintenance worker
- Larry Allen Gordon, B/M, Hampton, GA, 31, fast food restaurant employee
- Zachary Tye Gourdine, B/M, Conley, GA, 28, crane operator
- Dylan Michael Graham, W/M, Silver Creek, GA, 27, elevator mechanic
- Richard Jason Hyder, W/M, Elizabethton, TN, 41, asphalt grinding contractor
- Mitchell Allen Kennedy, W/M, Brooklyn, NY, 24, software company creative assistant
- Raheem Lalani, W/M, Birmingham, AL, 26, unemployed
- Marco A. Mendoza-Escalante, H/M, Riverdale, GA, 20, paving technician
- Darwin Menjivar-Fernandez, H/M, Powder Springs, GA, 22, restaurant server
- Juan Valencia-Patino, H/M, Jesup, GA, 22, student
- Juan Manuel Sanchez, H/M, Woodstock, GA, 25, automobile mechanic
- Junior Cornelius Timoteus, H/M, Atlanta, GA 25, restaurant server
- Oscar Ramirez, H/M, Atlanta, GA, 39, construction worker
- Dylan Golding Whynot, W/M, Kennesaw, GA, 32, behavioral health case manager
- Kyle A. Williams, B/M, Stone Mountain, GA, 32, warehouse employee
- Robert Tyler Wilson, B/M, Canton, GA, 31, automotive service technician
- Tarno M. Walters, B/M, Lawrenceville, GA, 22, grocery store employee
The cases will be prosecuted by the Office of the DeKalb County District Attorney. “We applaud this task force for its vigilance and proactive efforts to protect our children,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston. “Those who prey upon our most vulnerable population, must be held accountable for their actions. We will work quickly to file formal charges with the ultimate goal of prosecuting the accused individuals in the interest of justice for these egregious crimes.”
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. Arrests made by the Georgia ICAC Task Force have been steadily increasing over the last several years. In 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 196 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 244 arrests in 2015, and in 2016, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 340 arrests. In 2017, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 350 arrests. In 2018, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 307 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force has made over 2,000 arrests since its inception in 2002.
Information direct from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation