RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — A first-of-its-kind initiative in North Carolina to stop sex crimes against children, and it happened right here in the Piedmont Triad.
The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office spearheaded Operation Child Predator, which involved several law enforcement agencies and left more than a dozen suspects facing charges.
Deputies arrested 19 people in total in the span of three days, starting August 1. Randolph County Sheriff Greg Seabolt said many of these people are prominent community members. They’re business owners. One is a former fire chief. Another worked in the school system.
To have this many arrests in such a short time shows how many people out there are committing these crimes.
“If we had the manpower and we could put two or three people concentrating just on this, we could make charges every day,” said Seabolt.
Sheriff Seabolt worked with 19 other local, state and federal agencies to plan and execute Operation Child Predator, including the FBI and SBI, the Winston-Salem Police Department, Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives generated leads on suspected child predators online using social media platforms, physical surveillance, interviews and more. There are 19 men facing various charges and ranging in age from 23 to 70 years old. All of them thought they were meeting up with children, some as young as nine years old.
“Traveled to a predetermined location in Randolph County to meet who he believed an 11-year-old child to have sex with,” said Seabolt, describing one of the cases.
Instead, they met deputies who handed out more than 40 felony charges
Five of the 19 people charged are from Randolph County, four are from Guilford, one is from Yadkin and one is from Stokes County.
The rest are from various counties across the state, except for two who are from Virginia and South Carolina.
“Those who commit these crimes don’t know jurisdictional boundaries,” said Special Agent Kevin Roughton, who works in the computer crimes unit for the SBI.
Roughton said his team looks into cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which are up more than 500 percent.
“Had it not been for this operation, there could have been a child these offenders were coming to meet,” he said.
Many of the suspects claim they aren’t first-time offenders. One is even a registered sex offender.
“Most of these people that were arrested while interviewed said this was not their first time,” said Seabolt.
The sheriff said it won’t be their last time unless law enforcement does something about it. Another operation is already in the works.
“Which should serve as a warning to everyone who is contemplating coming to Randolph County with the intentions of sexually abusing or exploiting a child in our county,” he said. “That child they think they’re talking to may be a detective.”
Sheriff Seabolt is exploring options to fund positions solely dedicated to investigating these types of crimes.
All of these cases are currently under investigation. The sheriff expects more arrests could be forthcoming.