By Joe Johnson
Nine alleged child sexual predators were recently arrested in the Athens area as the result of a multi-agency sting, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Monday.
“Operation End Game” nabbed alleged child predators ranging in age from 19 to 53 who travelled to Athens from various parts of northeast Georgia with the intent to meet male and female children for sex, the GBI said.
The “children” were law enforcement officers with whom the suspects had communicated online.
One suspect reportedly was a convicted murderer who had completed his sentence and another was arrested while in possession of firearms and a machete, the GBI said.
The arrests were made over a three-day period beginning on Thursday. They culminated months of planning and coordination by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, and the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney Office.
The suspects were identified by the GBI as: Morgan Andrews, 27, of Maxeys; Joseph Kelly, 44, of Statham; James Morriss Jr., 49, of Dacula; Andrew Leo Schafer, 53, of Evergreen Drive, Winder; Deointe Sims, 25, of Shadow Moss Lane, Athens; Fredrick Smith, 29, of Royston, Michael Turner, 46, of Covington; Zachary Turner, 19, of Beaverdam Road, Colbert; and Noe Villafuerte, 44, of McAlpin Drive, Winterville.
Each suspect was charged with one felony violation of the state Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Act.
During the Operation End Game, investigators had more than 200 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms, according to the GBI. Many of those were exchanges in which the suspect initiated contact with investigators posing as underage males and females.
The suspects allegedly introduced obscene or lude conduct in their contacts with the undercover investigators, of whom they asked to take pornographic images for them, the GBI said.
About half of the exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing and classified advertisements, the GBI said. Others occurred in chat rooms.
All the suspects were released upon posting a $5,00 bond, except for Smith, who had yet to post bond as of Monday afternoon.
Of the 11 local law enforcement agencies involved in Operation End Game, the GBI singled out the Athens police for their contributions.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department is one of our most active member agencies. We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation,” said GBI Special Agent in Charge and commander of the ICAC Task Force Debbie Garner.
“This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them,” she said. “This successful operation was a true partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
In a prepared statement, Athens-Clarke County Police Chief Cleveland Spruill said, ““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.”
The other local agencies that participated in the operation included the Clarke, Hall and Forsyth sheriff’s offices, and the Alpharetta, Floyd County, Gwinnett County, Lilburn Polk County and Savannah police departments.
According to the GBI, The Georgia ICAC Task Force is composed of more than 240 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the task force, created in 2002 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.
The Georgia ICAC Task Force has made more than 2,000 arrests since its inception.