Twenty-six men were arrested over the past five days for allegedly showing up at a Richland apartment intending to have sex with young girls and boys.
The suspects nabbed in the multi-agency effort range in age from 20 to 70, with 22 of them living in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
The child sex sting, dubbed “Tri-Cities Net Nanny Operation,” involved undercover detectives using various websites to chat with people interested in having sex with children.
The postings on sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com reportedly generated hundreds of responses. But it was the would-be perpetrators who actually traveled to the apartment who were arrested, according to a Washington State Patrol news release.
The operation was led by the state patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force, with 45 local, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors participating.
“We realize that this is just a tip of the iceberg,” Trooper Chris Thorson told the Herald. “We collaborated with multiple agencies to capture as many of these sex predators as possible.”
Thorson said officers had been working on the operation for some time, setting up the online ads and communicating with those who responded to see if they were interested in meeting up.
The arrests were made Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. The suspects’ cars were either seized or impounded as part of the investigation, Thorson said.
The crimes investigated include attempted rape, commercial sex abuse of a minor, possessing and dealing child pornography, and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
Investigators also identified five people who have access to children at risk of being abused, the state patrol release said. Now they’re working to identify those kids and get them appropriate assistance.
“Children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to sexual predators due to the growth of the internet,” WSP Chief John R. Batiste said in the news release. “Thanks to the hard work by our law enforcement and prosecutor partners, we are able to make Washington communities safer for our families.”
This is the eighth Net Nanny Operation in Washington state since August 2015, which have led to 115 arrests and 21 victims rescued.
The men locked up in the Tri-City operation have investigative holds for both felonies and misdemeanors. A few also have Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds.
Prosecutors will review the cases this week and file charges.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter