RCSD: Operation nets nearly 20 arrests after suspects solicited for sex on internet

RCSD: Operation nets nearly 20 arrests after suspects solicited for sex on internet
Sheriff Leon Lott holds a press conference to discuss internet crimes against children and crimes involving commercial sex. (Source: Richland County Sheriff's Department/Twitter)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, along with several law enforcement agencies, have made several arrests as part of Operation: Relentless Guardian.

The five-day operation aimed to identify and arrest child predators and buyers of commercial sex. Officials said these 14 people spoke with undercover law enforcement officers who portrayed young girls online and traveled to meet in hopes of having sexual contact. Five of these people who were arrested traveled from Georgia and Florida.

Among those who were arrested was a former Richland County deputy after arriving at a location with the intent to have sex with a young girl, according to authorities. Nine others did not show up at the location, but warrants have been obtained for their arrests.

“Derrick Vandenham was a deputy, working on duty, in my car, in my uniform, the citizens of Richland County," said Sheriff Leon Lott, "and he was communicating to have sex with a 15-year old.”

Officials said charges range from soliciting young girls for sex and sending nude photos of themselves to the girls to arriving at a location to have sex.

Also, 14 others were arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover deputy. Former South Carolina Department of Transportation commissioner John Hardee was among the 14 taken into custody.

IN PROGRESS: Sheriff Leon Lott discusses the Internet Crimes Against Children Operation

Posted by WIS TV on Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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