Oct. 5—A Leesville man was arrested in Aiken County on Thursday as part of a child predator operation led by the Lexington County Sheriff's Department.
Thomas J. Niles Hall, 26, is charged with criminal solicitation of a minor. His bond is set at $20,000.
On Aug. 14, police state the suspect "knowingly communicat[ed] with a person who he believed to be under the age of eighteen, for the purpose of or with the intent of persuading, inducing, enticing or coercing the person to engage in sexual activity," according to an arrest warrant obtained from the Lexington County Sheriff's Department.
During the communication, the suspect "messaged the individual that he wanted to have sex with and then discussed making plans to meet the individual he reasonably believed to be a 14-year-old child for sex," according to the warrant.
The operation targets adults accused of contacting minors online for sexual activity. More than a dozen law enforcement agencies are working together in the ongoing investigation.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said more arrests are expected as investigators pursue charges against other suspects identified during the operation.
Police have released the names of 17 men who have been arrested as part of the operation.
The Lexington County Sheriff's Department said "another man is wanted on charges stemming from messages exchanged with law enforcement officers posing as minors on social media apps" in a Sept. 10 news release.
However, it is unclear if the sheriff's office was referring to Hall or another suspect in the operation.
"We, along with the Lexington Police Department and the South Carolina Attorney General's Office, served as the host agencies for this operation," Koon said. "Officers pretended to be underage teenagers as the suspects messaged them through apps. Some even had phone conversations with officers. After the suspect asked to meet with 'the child,' detectives were staged at a predetermined meeting spot to arrest them."
No children were ever used or placed in danger during the operation, according to Koon.
The FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Secret Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Cayce Department of Public Safety, the Mount Pleasant Police Department, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office, the Marion County Sheriff's Office and the Aiken Department of Public Safety participated in the operation, according to the release.