Athens, GA (PRESS RELEASE) - 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 Unit (CEACC) the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, and the Athens-Clarke County District Attorney’s Office, nine people were arrested over a three-day period beginning Thursday, July 25, 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.
“Operation End Game” was a three-day proactive effort centered in Athens, GA. The operation took several months of planning. The arrestees, ranging in age from 19 to 53, traveled from areas around Northeast Georgia with the intent to meet a child for sex. One person that was arrested was a convicted murderer who had completed his sentence. One person was arrested in possession of firearms and a machete. Thirteen mobile phones were seized as evidence during the operation.
The goal of “Operation End Game” was to arrest persons who communicate with children on-line and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Additionally, the operation targeted those that 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 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.
Over the course of the operation, over 25 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest. Nine of those cases were concluded with arrests. During the multi-day operation, investigators had more than 200 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms. Many of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact with whom they believed to be a minor and directed the conversation towards sex. In some of those cases, the subject introduced obscene or lude content, often exposing the minor (UC) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them. About half of the exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing, or even websites used for classified advertisements.
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.
Along with those agencies who participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, 10 additional law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation End Game” as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were:
- Alpharetta Police Department
- Clarke County Sheriff’s Office
- Floyd County Police Department
- Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office
- GBI-Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC)
- Gwinnett County Police Department
- Hall County Sheriff’s Office
- Lilburn Police Department
- Polk County Police Department
- Savannah Police Department
The proactive on-line investigation was a coordinated effort among the participating law enforcement agencies to combat this activity. Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill stated, “the ACCPD is proud to partner with the FBI, GBI and other federal, state, and local area law enforcement agencies in these continuing efforts to identify and apprehend those who prey on our most vulnerable victims. Thanks to this coordinated three-day effort, multiple predators have been removed from our streets and are no longer free to victimize our children.”
GBI Special Agent in Charge, and Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Debbie Garner remarked, “the Athens-Clarke County 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.”
The following were arrested and charged in Clarke County as part of “Operation End Game”:
- Morgan Andrews, W/M, Maxeys, GA, 27, mold repair technician
- Joseph Kelly, W/M, 44, Statham, GA, assembly line worker
- James Morriss, Jr., W/M, Dacula, GA, 49, sales representative
- Andrew Schafer, W/M, Winder, GA, 53, project manager
- Deointe Sims, B/M, Athens, GA, 25, assembly line worker
- Fredrick Smith, B/M, Royston, GA, 29, fast food/food delivery service employee
- Michael Turner, B/M, Covington, GA, 46, shipping/receiving employee
- Zachary Turner, B/M, Colbert, GA, 19, unemployed
- Noe Villafuerte, H/M, Winterville, GA, 44, landscaper
The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of 240+ 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 3 years. 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.