Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) helped catch 34 accused child sex predators in a sting operation dubbed COVID Chatdown. The men were arrested in Fresno, California after soliciting sex acts from undercover law enforcement operatives who the suspects believed to be 12 and 13-year-old children. No real minors were involved in the operation.
The online operation ran in Fresno from Jul. 20 to Aug. 2 and involved over 190 online contacts with individuals who continued to chat even after learning they were messaging minors. A significant number of the perpetrators also sent sexually explicit images to the undercover operatives. When subjects inquired about sex acts, the undercover operatives provided the men with an address to meet up.
The 34 suspects arrested traveled to the address to meet who they believed to be 12 and 13-year-old boys and girls for sex acts. But when the suspects arrived, law enforcement operatives with handcuffs took them into custody.
A number of the men arrested admitted to previously victimizing other children, and one man who was planning to have sex with a 13-year-old child admitted to being HIV positive. The suspects face a range of charges that include the possession, transmission and transportation of child pornography, sending harmful material to seduce a minor, and arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purpose.
"These abhorrent attempts by predators to exploit innocent children for immoral and illegal sexual gratification have no place in American society," said HSI Special Agent in Charge Tatum King. "Homeland Security Investigations will relentlessly pursue anyone involved in criminal behavior against children."
The operation was conducted by the Central California Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC). Formed in 2007, ICAC is comprised of 64 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. ICAC is dedicated to investigating online crimes committed against children and protecting children from online predators.