Ten potential child predators have been arrested following an extensive online child exploitation investigation in South Carolina dubbed “Operation Home Alone” that involved 14 state and federal law enforcement agencies.
Ten men aged 25 to 60 from the Charlotte and Chester areas were arrested in the sting which involved a local police officer posing as an underage female, the York County Sheriff’s Office said in a release on April 5.
One of the suspected child predators is a 48-year-old registered sex offender in North Carolina who was released from federal prison in November last year and went off house arrest on March 1.
Another suspect is a large haul driver for a prominent shipping company, deputies said.
“Seven of the ten arrestees, dubbed as travelers, actually came to the residence or attempted to come to the residence of the operation,” the sheriff’s office said. “These men believed they were traveling to a location to have a sexual encounter with a minor. The ages of the children they thought they were coming to have sex with were 10 to 17-years-old.”
Multiple agencies participated in the weeks-long online investigation that began last month, including the York County Sheriff’s Office, which is part of the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force with the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, which work together to track down, identify and prosecute those individuals who prey on children.
The FBI, Homeland Security, US Secret Service, Rock Hill, and Fort Mill police also participated in the sting. The sheriff’s office noted that at any given time, 25 to 45 officers, an analyst, and an additional staff member were working on the operation.
“We want our communities safe, we want our internet safe,” said Sheriff Kevin Tolson. “If these suspects had not been identified and arrested talking to an officer, they would likely have been talking to a live child victim.”
“The message we need to communicate to parents in our community is, it’s extremely important to know what your children are doing on their phones,” Tolson added. “Know what your child’s passwords are, know what apps they are using, and check them from time to time to see who they are talking with in chat rooms or texts.”
All ten men face various child exploitation charges.
The sheriff’s office said additional suspects are still being identified and will be arrested in due course. The investigation is ongoing.
Eight of the 10 suspects have since bonded out of jail, according to the sheriff’s office.