BISMARCK, N.D. — A Montana man pleaded guilty and was sentenced in federal court Wednesday to five years in prison for attempting to arrange a sexual encounter with a child at a western North Dakota hotel.
This guilty plea and sentence resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI), and the North Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC).
"There are few crimes more disturbing than the victimization of a child," said Special Agent in Charge J. Michael Netherland, of HSI St. Paul, which covers North Dakota. "HSI places a special priority on child exploitation crimes. Together with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we will continue to aggressively pursue and stop anyone who attempts to abuse our children."
Clayton L. Lakey, 34, of Billings, Montana, pleaded guilty to a charge of coercing and enticing a minor, and was sentenced May 7 to serve five years in federal prison.
Between Nov. 21 and Nov. 23, 2013, Lakey communicated via computer and text messages with an undercover officer pretending to be someone who could arrange a sexual encounter with a child. Lakey arranged to meet at a hotel room in Dickinson, North Dakota, to have sex for money with a person he thought would be a juvenile. Lakey was arrested when he arrived at the hotel room.
Lakey is the first defendant to be convicted and sentenced as a result of Operation Vigilant Guardian, a joint human trafficking investigation by HSI and the North Dakota BCI, which targets predators trying to arrange sex with underage human trafficking victims online.
This investigation resulted in the arrest of 14 defendants on federal charges in Williston and Dickinson, North Dakota in October and November of 2013.
"When I learned that 14 people had been arrested in western North Dakota on charges of using the Internet to try and arrange sexual encounters with underage girls, I was deeply troubled," said U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon. "Human trafficking is, sadly, a growing concern in North Dakota. The Operation Vigilant Guardian prosecutions show that the U.S. Attorney's Office, with our state and federal law enforcement partners, will move swiftly and powerfully to attack the demand that fuels this horrible crime."
Lakey's prison sentence will be followed by 10 years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment to the Crime Victim's Fund, and he must register as a sex offender.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including producing and distributing online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
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. 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 and current chair 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.