Three-dozen Texas men could spend Christmas behind bars after they were swept up in an Internet sting and accused of trying to sexually exploit children.
The Montgomery County men were caught in “Operation Safe Holiday,” a police investigation that spanned from October to December. Undercover cops posing as children messaged the suspects and set up meetings, where the suspects were promptly arrested.
“Sexual predators are looking for opportunities to meet up with underage kids for sex and are using the Internet and social media apps to arrange the meetings,” Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said Wednesday.
The arrests were made by the county’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force made up of the Conroe Police Department, the county’s constable’s offices, the district attorney’s office, Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Some of the suspects are also charged with Child Pornography and Attempted Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Child.
Agencies on the taskforce regularly monitor websites and social media apps, creating identities and entering chat groups online. They respond to postings and start chats on sites like Backpage, according to Assistant District Attorney Tyler Dunman. When the officers start corresponding with suspects online, they make it clear that they’re underage.
“Unfortunately a lot of these types of perpetrators are looking for underage victims,” said Dunman.
Dunman said correspondence may go on for weeks and even months before a meeting is set up. The case against the suspects is mainly built before the arrest and based on the interactions they had with the undercover officer online. But after the arrest, police seize the perpetrators’ computers for evidence, Dunman said.
The arrests show that parents must be vigilant to protect children, he said.
“Frankly, parents are clueless these days as to the type of things that are happening on the internet and the types of communications their kids are having with strangers,” said Dunman.