“Operation Southern Impact II”
A total of 76 people were arrested, and 13 children were rescued or identified as victims during a mutually coordinated operation among eight southeastern states. The joint, proactive event, Operation Southern Impact II, was coordinated by nine Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in those eight states and focused on persons who possess and distribute child pornography and those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet. The planning for Operation Southern Impact II began four months ago and culminated in two days of investigative actions to include search warrant executions, undercover operations, and arrests in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. A total of 222 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies participated in the operation.
The arrestees, ranged in age from 17 to 73. Some of their occupations included postal worker, non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, pastor, construction worker and magician. During the operation, 136 search warrants were executed and 100 knock and talks were conducted in those eight states. During those search warrants and knock and talks, 736 digital devices were previewed and 1,255 digital devices seized. Of those devices seized 235 were mobile phones. All of the devices will be checked for evidence of any type of child pornography, if during this it is found that the browser historys show websites like hdpornvideo have been accessed this will be ignored as that type of website only contains adult pornography which is legal and it is only illegal pornography they will be looking for. These 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, and proactive cases such as peer-to-peer investigations and proactive, on-line undercover investigations.
During the course of the operation, some of the investigations extended to other states including Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Leads were sent to these additional states and their respective ICAC Task Forces followed up and assisted or developed their own investigations. The continued collaboration among the national network of ICAC Task Forces is one of the most successful partnerships in the history of law enforcement.
The 61 ICAC Task Forces across the country are working cases and conducting investigative actions like these every day. The Commanders of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in these states wanted to reinforce to those who exploit children that the ICAC Task Forces will work together to make an impact in their respective states and the region as a whole. The cooperation among agencies and among states illustrates their level of commitment to detect, arrest, and prosecute child predators. Cooperation is always important in law enforcement, but it is never more important than when we set out to protect children. Operation Southern Impact II has given us an opportunity to share our experience, information, and resources across units, agencies, and state lines, to make sure that there is no safe place to hide for criminals who would victimize the most vulnerable among us.
The National ICAC Task Force Program consists of more than 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. 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.
N.C. State Bureau of Investigation’s Special Agent in Charge Alan K. Flora of the SBI Computer Crimes Unit serves as the commander of the NC ICAC Task Force. SAC Flora stated that North Carolina’s contribution to the overall operation included 27 search warrants, 56 knock and talks, 190 digital devices seized along with 178 DVD’s/CD’s. Eight North Carolina men were arrested ranging in age from 32 to 73, and eight children were rescued/removed from abusive situations.
Case examples from North Carolina:
SBI agents arrested Juan Alberto Juarez Saravia, 35, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador on charges of child sex exploitation. Saravia, who worked as a traveling pastor in the Hispanic community in the Durham area, admitted to using a fictitious identity Facebook account to entice a 14-year-old Virginia girl into producing sexually explicit videos of herself which she then sent to Saravia. He is currently in the Durham County jail, charged with First Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, Second Degree Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, and Indecent Liberties with a Child. Saravia is being held on a $750,000 bond. This investigation is ongoing due to evidence indicating there may be more minor victims. SBI’s investigation is on-going because Saravia may have victims who are also undocumented immigrants and thus less likely to report the crimes committed against them. The SBI is working with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to determine the precise immigration status of Saravia and whether or not he had previously been deported.
North Carolina’s SBI agents and Currituck County Sheriff’s detectives arrested Richard Wayne Bell, 73, of Moyock, for child pornography offenses. Bell was a church deacon and served as an administrator in a church daycare program.
Macon County Sheriff’s detectives executed a search warrant and seized property from a 36-year-old man accused of hands-on sexual offenses against as many as five children. The crimes allegedly took place in North Carolina and multiple other states due to the man’s travel as a construction worker. Investigation is ongoing.
Cherokee County Sheriff’s detectives arrested a 37-year-old registered sex offender who had failed to report an address change when he moved to a residence 290 feet from a local high school. Digital evidence searched pursuant to the man’s arrest indicated that he was involved in sale of illegal drugs. Additional information developed indicated that the man was using minor females to traffic drugs. Investigation is ongoing.
Guilford County Sheriff’s detectives examined digital devices seized from a registered sex offender who was working as a magician. Evidence of child pornography was located. The investigation is ongoing.
A 17-year-old Canadian girl recently received nude photos of herself from an anonymous Snapchat user, who demanded more nude photographs. The girl recognized the photos as some that she had taken and sent to a boyfriend at age fourteen. She was under the impression at the time that the photos had been deleted by the boyfriend. The girl reported the sextortion attempt to Ontario law enforcement who tracked the cyber stalker to Rowan County, North Carolina. SBI agents, HSI agents and Rowan County deputies located a 21-year-old male who admitted to his attempts to extort the girl to produce more photos. Charges are pending review by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Acting on a cybertip about a child in danger, police officers in Monroe executed a search warrant at a residence where they found a seven-year-old girl in an abusive situation. The girl was removed from the home by the Department of Social Services. The investigation is ongoing and the child is now safe.
The following NC ICAC Task Force agencies took part in the operation:
N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, sheriff’s offices in Alamance, Alexander, Brunswick, Cabarrus, Cherokee, Cumberland, Currituck, Duplin, Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford, Harnett, Henderson, Johnston, Sampson, Macon, Moore, Orange, Rockingham, Rowan, Transylvania, Wake and Watauga; police departments in Asheville, Boone, Cary, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Concord, Fayetteville, Gastonia, Greensboro, Hendersonville, Kernersville,, Monroe, Winston Salem and Winterville; Homeland Security Investigations in Charlotte, Hendersonville, Winston Salem and Wilmington; the U.S. Attorney’s Office – Eastern District and Middle District, U.S. Marshals, Wake County District Attorney’s Office,
Additional assisting agencies who are not members of the NC ICAC Task Force were NCIS Norfolk, Virginia, Fairfax County (VA) PD, Durham PD, Wilson County SO, Wilson PD, and the Ontario (Canada) Provincial Police.
SAC Flora expressed his gratitude to all agencies and officers who took part in operation. “Much of what we do happens behind the scenes due to the sensitive issues of crimes against children and the need to respect the privacy of the victims. Operation Southern Impact II highlights the types of investigations ICAC Task Force officers deal with on a daily basis. It is important to understand that people who prey on children walk among us everywhere. They are in our schools, our churches, and hidden in plain sight in all of our neighborhoods. Many of them believe that they are operating anonymously on the internet, but I assure you they can be caught when adequate resources are committed to that cause. The ICAC Task Force is relentless in its determination to expose and remove those who prey on our most vulnerable and precious citizens. We are fighting a battle that never ends, but we never quit.”