Mar. 12—BAINBRIDGE — As the result of a proactive online undercover investigation coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, the Decatur County Sheriff's Office, and the United States Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Georgia, four people were arrested and charged with sex crimes against children over a three-day period beginning March 2.
The following were arrested and charged:
—Fudencio Ruiz Tum, 36, from Cairo; occupation: plumber; charged with OCGA 16-5-46: trafficking of persons for sexual servitude;
—Alex Terrell Harvey, 36, from Albany; occupation: truck driver; charged with OCGA 16-5-46: trafficking of persons for sexual servitude;
—Jason Zaborske, 48, from Tallahassee, Fla.; occupation: cook; charged with OCGA 16-12-100.2(d)(1): computer or electronic pornography and child exploitation prevention act of 2007;
—David Salas, 45, from Leesburg; unemployed, charged with OCGA 16-5-46: trafficking of persons for sexual servitude.
Additional charges and arrests may be forthcoming.
"Operation Threat Level Midnight" was a proactive effort centered in Bainbridge. The operation took several months of planning and involved the collaboration of 11 law enforcement agencies and the United States Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Georgia. The arrestees traveled from areas around south Georgia with the intent to meet a child for sex. Every individual arrested during the operation believed they were going to meet with a child and engage in prearranged sex acts. Four mobile devices were seized as evidence during the operation.
The goal of "Operation Threat Level Midnight" was to identify persons who engage in sexually explicit communication with children on the internet, arrange to engage in a sex act with the child, and then travel to meet the child for the purpose of having sex. Additionally, the operation targeted those who are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor.
Online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested more than 166 people in similar operations.
Over the course of the operation, investigators had more than 43 exchanges with persons on various social media or internet platforms. During many of these exchanges, the subjects directed conversations toward sex with persons they believed to be minors. Some of these conversations involved the arrangement of sex with a minor in exchange for monetary compensation. Thirteen cases were established that met the threshold for arrest. Four of those cases were concluded with arrests.
In some of these cases, the subject introduced obscene or lude content, often exposing what the perpetrator thought was a child to pornography or requesting the child produce and send sexual or pornographic images for them. About half of the exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing, or even websites used for classified advertisements.
Although some websites promote themselves as being for "adults-only," it is not uncommon for law enforcement to work cases in which children access these sites, establish profiles claiming to be older, and then find themselves vulnerable to victimization, harassment, blackmail or assault. Several subjects were identified as communicating simultaneously with multiple investigators posing as minors. Such activity confirms what investigators uncover conducting these types of investigations: that many predators specifically seek out minors on such websites to groom them as potential victims for sexual contact.
Along with those agencies who participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, 12 total agencies participated in "Operation Threat Level Midnight" as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were:
—Decatur County Sheriff's Office
—Bainbridge Public Safety
—Homeland Security Investigations
—United States Attorney's Office
—United States Secret Service
—Georgia State Patrol
—Seminole County Sheriff's Office
—Colquitt County Sheriff's Office
—Tifton Police Department
—Tift County Sheriff's Office
—GBI: CEACC Unit, Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center, Southwestern Metro Regional Drug Enforcement Office, Statesboro Regional Investigative, Thomson Regional Investigative Office
—United States Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia
The proactive online investigation was a coordinated effort among the participating law enforcement agencies to combat this activity.
"Proactive undercover operations like Operation Threat Level Midnight uncover some of the darkest most horrific activity that is occurring on the internet," GBI Special Agent in Charge Brian Johnston, who is the Commander of the state ICAC Task Force, remarked. "The Georgia ICAC Task Force is committed to the communities it serves by virtue of the 290-plus local law enforcement agencies, including the Decatur County Sheriff's Office, that have prioritized crimes involving children and specifically technology facilitated child exploitation.
"Many thanks to the Decatur County Sheriff's Office and to all the agencies involved for supporting the Georgia ICAC Task Force in this mission."
Anyone with information about these cases or other cases of child exploitation is asked to contact the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit at (404) 270-8870 or report via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline at CyberTipline.org. Tips also can be submitted by calling 800-597-TIPS (8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the See Something, Send Something mobile app.