Los Angeles Times

18 are arrested in online child-sex sting operation

Undercover officers in Northern California say suspects targeted kids as young as 13.

- By Salvador Hernandez

Eighteen people were arrested in an undercover operation after they allegedly attempted to contact minors online for sex and other related crimes in Sacramento County, law enforcemen­t officials announced Friday.

During the investigat­ion called Operation Secret Admirer, the suspects were in contact with undercover officers who posed as children as young as 13, according to authoritie­s.

The operation was conducted between mid-February and March 1.

“These are very bad people we got off the streets,” Sacramento County Sheriff Jim Cooper said during a news conference posted on Facebook. “There’s a whole lot more out there.”

The operation was conducted by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and investigat­ors from the California Department of Justice, along with the Sacramento County Sheriff ’s Office, FBI, Homeland Security Investigat­ions and multiple law enforcemen­t agencies in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and San Joaquin counties.

“Today’s announceme­nt makes it clear that child sexual abuse will not be tolerated,” California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said in a statement.

“I have a simple message for all those who target children for sex online: If you go after children in California, we’ll go after you,” Bonta added.

The suspects arrested during the operation sent undercover agents explicit photos and messages with explicit language.

Many of the arrests included individual­s who allegedly attempted to meet the undercover agents, thinking they were underage children, authoritie­s said.

Sacramento County Sheriff ’s Sgt. Brandon Gayman, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said the suspects during the investigat­ion were repeatedly told they were speaking to a minor.

“That’s even continuous­ly referenced in other things like them being in school or doing homework,” Gayman said.

The investigat­ion was initially planned for three days, but it expanded as law enforcemen­t sought suspects who contacted undercover officers.

Some of the suspects were also in contact with multiple undercover officers during the weeks-long operation, Gayman said.

“That tells us right there that these folks are out there looking for children,” he said. “We do anticipate that these suspects have contacted other minors out in the community.”

Online grooming and enticement of underage victims can be found in multiple online platforms, including social media, messaging apps and games, according to the state attorney general’s office.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the United States experience sexual abuse.

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