A massive child pornography and child exploitation sting was carried out in eight Southeastern states called Operation Southern Impact III led to the arrest of 31 offenders from Georgia.
A total of 82 people were arrested as part of the operation and 17 children were rescued or identified as victims. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the joint proactive operation focused on persons who possess and distribute child pornography and those who are sexually exploiting children in other ways using technology and the internet.
The planning for Operation Southern Impact III began approximately four months ago and culminated in three days of investigative actions to include search warrant executions, undercover operations, arrests and sex offender compliance verification visits in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. A total of 171 law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies participated in the operation.
In Georgia, 31 people were arrested during the operation. Most of those arrests involved the possession or distribution of child pornography. While investigators regularly target the trading of all types of child pornography, in Operation Southern Impact III investigators targeted those seeking out and distributing the most violent sexual abuse material involving infants and toddlers.
According to the GBI, the possession, distribution and production of these horrific images is not uncommon. The Georgia ICAC Task Force consistently finds this type of content. Special Agent in Charge of the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit and Commander of the Georgia ICAC Task Force, Debbie Garner, said that “the dedicated law enforcement professionals that are part of the Georgia ICAC Task Force will not cease searching for those who are producing, trading and collecting this graphic material. We will continue to work together to find, investigate and prosecute these predators.”
Seven of those arrested in Georgia traveled for the purpose of meeting and having sex with a minor. A goal of the operation was to arrest persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex.
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.
Throughout the Southeast, arrestees ranged in age from 20 to 70. Some of their occupations included non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, youth group leader, former high school band director, freelance photographer, construction worker and painter.
During the operation, 134 search warrants were executed and 215 knock and talks were conducted in all eight states. During those search warrants and knock and talks, 861 digital devices were previewed and 1,613 digital devices were seized. Of those devices seized 203 were mobile phones.
In Georgia, a total of 56 search warrants were executed and 41 knock and talks were conducted. Law enforcement officers conducting the searches were looking for evidence of possession and distribution of child pornography using the Internet as well as evidence of other child exploitation related crimes. Over the course of the operation, 305 digital devices were examined on site and 972 digital media and devices were seized as evidence. During these searches, illegal drugs and firearms were found as well.
These investigative actions resulted from both reactive cases such as cybertips received by each ICAC Task Force from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and proactive cases such as peer-to-peer investigations and proactive, on-line undercover investigations. Daily each task force receives numerous cybertips from NCMEC related to online child exploitation.
During Operation Southern Impact III, the investigations related to 248 cybertips were progressed through the execution of these search warrants and knock and talks, and through the seizure of digital devices which will be forensically processed in the coming weeks. There were 22 internet safety presentations or related events held during the operation as well.
During the operation, four registered sex offenders were encountered and arrested in Georgia on charges related to child pornography. One of the registered sex offenders arrested during Operation Southern Impact III was initially arrested by the GBI during a very similar operation in 2015.
Additionally, as part of Operation Southern Impact III, Department of Community Supervision Officers across the state, working with numerous local law enforcement agencies, conducted searches and attempted warrant service on sex offenders who had violated the terms of their supervision. As a result of their efforts, 1,153 searches and 93 arrests were completed. Eight firearms, as well as ammunition, pornographic material, drugs, and drug paraphernalia, were located during the searches. Of those arrested, 32 were under supervision for a computer-related sex offense. DCS is an active member of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. Everyday DCS Officers work diligently in their communities to provide opportunities for successful outcomes, while holding offenders accountable.