18 suspected child predators arrested in Waco sting
The COVID-19 pandemic apparently hasn't deterred accused sexual predators from stalking children in Central Texas.
"Due to the COVID crisis, the McLennan County Sheriff's Office has worked under modified guidelines to help prevent the spread of the virus," said Chief Deputy David Kilcrease.
"However, while our communities have been practicing social distancing, we have found that predators are--and were--stalking our children."
Warrants have been issued for 20 suspected predators and 18 of the 20 have been arrested as the result of an investigation that started in April involving the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations-Austin, the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, the Freestone County Sheriff's Office, Mississippi State Police and the Gulfport Police Department.
"At this time, one person is out-of-state and is cooperating, returning to Texas, and one is at large," said Chief Deputy David Kilcrease.
The online operation targeted men attempting to engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
"Throughout the operation, men either solicited paid sex from children, or enticed children to engage in the manufacturing and distribution of child pornography," said Kilcrease.
"The acts that were attempted against children are the grooming behaviors seen in the recruitment of children which causes them to fall victim to sexual crimes, including human trafficking."
Officials say they want this to open parents' eyes that this kind of exploitation is happening during the pandemic.
"We want this to be a reminder to parents, that with the shelter in place orders, and schools being closed due to COVID, children are on their digital devices more than ever," said Kilcrease. "Those seeking to exploit them are as well."
"Parents need to take the time to monitor their children's social media, as well as who they are talking to," he said.
Rudy Garcia, David Dabney, Timothy John Carr Smith, and Ty Hair are charged with prostitution of a minor; Luke Stanton is charged with failure to comply with sexual offender registration requirements; and Melquiades Romero-Lopez, Joshua Kopelow, Gregory Reed, Earl Gumbert, George Lee, Brandon Casaubon, Danny Kelley, Jim Kitchens, James McCarter, Isaiah Dove, Lloyd Guthrie, Brian Jeschonek, Ryan Lemons, Ernest Whittington and Russell Bemis were charged with online solicitation of a minor.