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Child Exploitation
11/20/2019

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ICE HSI Charlotte, law enforcement partners arrest 10 as part of Operation Vigilant Shepherd

ICE HSI Charlotte, law enforcement partners arrest 10 as part of Operation Vigilant Shepherd

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ten individuals face state charges related to child exploitation after their arrests in and around York County, South Carolina. The charges stem from an operation deemed Operation Vigilant Shepherd, which targeted child predators. The operation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Charlotte, along with 12 state and federal law enforcement agencies.

From Nov. 6 to Nov. 8, as part of Operation Vigilant Shepherd, HSI Charlotte targeted predators who tried to entice juveniles to provide child pornography or engage in illicit sexual activities. The operation took place at several locations in York County, including a residence. Five individuals traveled to the residence to engage in sexual activities with a minor. Arrested individuals included a church group leader and Boy Scouts leader, as well as a registered sex offender.

“Children are the most vulnerable and innocent part of our population, and predators capitalize on that,” said Ronnie Martinez, special agent in charge of HSI Charlotte. “Coordination between law enforcement agencies is essential to pool resources to ensure criminals like those arrested as part of Operation Vigilant Shepherd are removed from our community.”

In addition to HSI Charlotte, participating agencies included: the York County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, the Hampton County Sheriff’s Office, the Bishopville Police Department, and the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office.

At any given time, 25 to 40 officers, analysts, and additional staff members helped run the operation. The defendants contacted and conversed with law enforcement officers through numbers social media applications. Additional suspects are still being identified, this investigation is ongoing.

ICE HSI Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU) employs the latest technology to collect evidence and track the activities of individuals and organized groups who sexually exploit children through websites, chat rooms, peer-to-peer trading, and other internet-based platforms. The CEIU also assists HSI field offices; coordinates major investigations; conducts operations throughout the world to identify and rescue child victims and to identify and apprehend offenders; and delivers training to HSI personnel as well as state, local, federal, and international law enforcement partners. One of CEIU’s oldest operations is Operation Predator.

Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 25,000 child predators for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. From Fiscal Year 2011 to present HSI has identified and/or rescued more than 6,500 child victims.

In fiscal year 2019, more than 3,500 child predators were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.

Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.

HSI is a founding member of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/21/2019