“These abhorrent attempts by predators to exploit innocent children for immoral and illegal sexual gratification have no place in American society,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) San Francisco (NorCal) Special Agent in Charge Tatum King. “Homeland Security Investigations will relentlessly pursue anyone involved in criminal behavior against children.”
Operation Covid Chatdown is a startling look at how many individuals in just the Fresno region alone are actively grooming children online to meet for sexual encounters. During the undercover operation from July 20 to Aug. 2, 2020, more than 190 online contacts continued to chat even after they knew they were talking to whom they believed was a minor. There were a significant number of instances in which perpetrators also sent sexually explicit images. When the subjects asked the undercover operatives to engage in sexual acts, they were provided an address in Fresno, where they traveled and were subsequently arrested. No real minors were involved in the operation.
These 34 men traveled by foot, skateboard, bike, or vehicle to meet 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls, who turned out to be law enforcement operatives with badges, guns and handcuffs. However, a number of the arrested individuals admitted to victimizing real children during previous attempts. One man admitted he was HIV positive and that he planned to have sex with a 13-year-old child. The suspects face a range of criminal charges including state charges for sending harmful material to seduce a minor, arranging meeting with a minor for lewd purpose, and possession, transmission and transportation of child pornography.
Operation COVID Chatdown was conducted by the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. The Central California ICAC Task Force, formed in 2007, is comprised of 64 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies spread throughout nine counties in the Central Valley. It is dedicated to protecting children online and investigating crimes committed against children, which are facilitated by the Internet and computer usage.
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