As a result of a proactive undercover investigation coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hall County District Attorney’s Office, five (5) people were arrested over a four-day period beginning Thursday, October 5, 2017. Those arrested were charged with O.C.G.A. 16-12-100.2, Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007. Additional charges may be forthcoming.
“Operation Rattlesnake” was a four-day proactive effort centered in Hall County, GA. The operation took several months of planning. The arrestees, ranging in age from 23 to 58, traveled from areas around metro Atlanta with the intent to meet a child for sex. One person that was arrested was a registered sex offender with previous convictions for child molestation and statutory rape.
The goal of “Operation Rattlesnake” was to arrest persons who communicate with children on-line and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. In addition, the operation targeted those that are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor. On-line 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. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested over 100 people in similar operations.
Over the course of the multi-day operation, investigators had almost 300 exchanges with subjects on various social media or internet platforms. More than 60 of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact with whom they believed to be a minor and directed the conversation towards sex. In some of those cases, the subject introduced obscene or lude content, often exposing the minor (UC) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them. More than 170 exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing, or even websites used for classified advertisements. Although some websites promote themselves as being for “adults-only” it is not uncommon for law enforcement to work cases in which children access these sites, establish profiles claiming to be older, and then find themselves vulnerable to victimization, harassment, blackmail, or assault. More than a dozen subjects were identified as communicating simultaneously with multiple investigators posing as minors. Such activity confirms what investigators uncover conducting these types of investigations: that many predators specifically seek out minors on such websites to groom them as potential victims for sexual contact.
Along with those agencies who participated in the planning and coordinating of the operation, eleven (11) additional law enforcement agencies participated in “Operation Rattlesnake” as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were:
Brookhaven Police Department
Coweta County Sheriff’s Office
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office
Gainesville Police Department
Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC)
Hall County Solicitor’s Office
Hall Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad
LaGrange Police Department
Oakwood Police Department
Richmond County Sheriff’s Office
Roswell Police Department
The proactive on-line investigation was a coordinated effort among the participating law enforcement agencies to combat this activity. Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch stated, “This operation is a prime example of interagency planning and cooperation. I am proud that we were able to host the task force at our facility to carry it out. Moreover, I hope that these arrests send a loud and clear message: the exploitation of children will not be tolerated in Hall County. We look forward to working with the ICAC task force whenever needed to stop these predators. Hall County is a great community and we will work relentlessly to ensure that it remains a safe place for our children.” GBI Special Agent in Charge, and Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, Debbie Garner remarked “The Hall County Sheriff’s Office is one of our most active member agencies. We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation. This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”
The following were arrested and charged in Hall County as part of “Operation Rattlesnake”:
Melo Hairapetian, W/M, Morris, IL, 28 years of age, construction worker
Baribefe Monkpe, B/M, Lawrenceville, GA, 23 years of age, employment unknown
Anthony Jordan, W/M, Newnan, GA, 37 years of age, unemployed
Drake Cook, W/M, Athens, GA, 23 years of age, retail store employee
James Herndon, W/M, Flowery Branch, GA, 58 years of age, pharmacist
The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of 200+ local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U. S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. This support encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, prevention and community education. The ICAC Program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims. By helping state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective and sustainable responses to online child victimization and child pornography, the ICAC program delivers national resources at the local level. Arrests made by the Georgia ICAC Task Force have been steadily increasing over the last 3 years. In 2014, the GA ICAC Task Force made 196 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 244 arrests in 2015, and in 2016, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 340 arrests. The Georgia ICAC Task Force has made over 2,000 arrests since its inception in 2002.