(WBTV) - Law enforcement officials arrested 82 people and rescued or identified 17 children as victims during a mutually-coordinated operation between eight southeastern states.
Officials say seven of the people who were arrested were traveling to meet and have sex with a minor.
The joint operation, Operation Southern Impact III, was coordinated by 10 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
The operation focused on people who possess and distribute child pornography and those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet.
Officials say planning for Operation Southern Impact III started about 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 the eight states.
A total of 171 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies participated in the operation.
The people who were arrested 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. During that time, 861 digital devices were previewed and 1,613 digital devices were seized. Officials say 203 of the devices seized were mobile phones.
The 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.
On a daily basis, each task force receives numerous cybertips from NCMEC related to online child exploitation.
During the operation, investigations related to 248 cybertips were advanced. 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.
“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 ICAC Task Force Commander Alan K. Flora stated.
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 and details of the arrests will be made at the local level by the agencies directly involved.
Five of the people who were arrested in North Carolina were identified as:
- 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.
- 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.
North Carolina agencies participating in the operation included:
- North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation
- 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
- Alamance County Sheriff’s Office
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.