SPOTSYLVANIA, VA (WWBT) - Eleven people in Virginia were arrested recently after a five-month cyber-sting operation led by the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office Child Exploitation Unit in partnership with the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
"The individuals identified and arrested initiated communication with the undercover officers, believing that they were chatting with young teenage girls," the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office said in a news release.
It all started by chatting on a social media website. Spotsylvania investigators say these 11 men thought they were talking to a 13-year-old girl.
"A couple were using fake pictures. Then, with continued chats with what they thought was 13-year-old girl, they eventually told us their real name," says Captain Liz Scott with the Spotsylvania Sheriff's office.
That girl was actually an undercover deputy. Investigators say the men had no idea. They sent explicit photos and asked for photos from the "teen" as well. Investigators say the conversations quickly turned to sex, with the men agreeing to meet the minor somewhere in Spotyslvania.
"Nine out of the 11 actually showed up in Spotsylvania County to pick up a child," says Captain Scott.
Investigators say 64-year-old Reginal Johnson traveled from Henrico, three men in their 30's came from Caroline County and 27-year-old Stephen Redford came from Amelia. The other suspects live in Spotsylvania.
"These people are right in our backyard," says Captain Scott.
Investigators say some suspects had been charged before for crimes related to children. Its a wake-up call to parents.
"I think we could probably continue doing this and make 11 more arrests, and I know that doesn't sit well with parents at home," says Captain Scott. "That's why it's incredibly important to know what sites your children are going onto and whom they're talking to and not to necessarily believe that the person they're talking to is who they say they are."
The 11 people arrested were:
- Reginal Linwood Johnson, 64, of Henrico
- Stephen Lewis Redford, 27, of Amelia
- Howard Daniel Dowden, 32, of Caroline
- Jon-Paul Patterson Snyder, 31, of Caroline
- Gabriel Allen Hester, 33, of Caroline
- Austin Thomas Fowler, 26, of Stafford
- Colin Wade Clayton, 21, of Spotsylvania
- Mohammed Wail Nuri, 20, of Spotsylvania
- Thomas Wayne Petry, 28, of Spotsylvania
- Michael Wade Miller, 62, of Spotsylvania
- Michael Allen Silver, 20, no fixed address
The sting began in October and ended earlier this month.
All 11 of the suspects were arrested and charged with a variety of offenses related to the solicitation of a minor child.
The operation was made possible through funds from Virginia State Police.
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