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76 arrested in multi-state child exploitation operation


The Daily Reflector

Saturday, March 17, 2018

RALEIGH — A total of 76 people were arrested, and 13 children were rescued or identified as victims during a mutually coordinated operation between 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 Winterville Police Department participated in Operation Southern Impact II as a member of the North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. During the operation, detectives with the Winterville Police Department served two search warrants & seized multiple electronic devices in regards to a report of child porn distribution occurring in town. The investigation is ongoing.

The planning for Operation Southern Impact II began approximately 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.

Those arrested 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 were seized. Of those devices seized 235 were mobile phones. 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, online undercover investigations.

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 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. NC SBI Special Agent in Charge, Alan K. Flora of the SBI Computer Crimes Unit serves as the commander of the NC ICAC Task Force. 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 NC men were arrested ranging in age from 32 to 73, and 8 children were rescued/removed from abusive situations.

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,” Flora said. “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 our 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.”