Crime

Police to predators: ‘Be careful who you find because you might find us’

'This is eye-opening:" Authorities discuss child sex sting in Whatcom County

A team of law enforcement agencies nabbed 20 men this month in a sting that targeted internet predators attempting to solicit sexual contact with minors. Listen to the press conference Monday, Dec. 18 about the sting and subsequent arrests.
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A team of law enforcement agencies nabbed 20 men this month in a sting that targeted internet predators attempting to solicit sexual contact with minors. Listen to the press conference Monday, Dec. 18 about the sting and subsequent arrests.

The Bellingham Police and Washington State Patrol had words of warning to both parents of young children and the internet predators who were arrested in Whatcom County during a four-day child sex sting: Be careful.

Twenty men in Whatcom and Skagit counties were caught in a sting that targeted internet predators attempting to solicit sexual contact with minors during the “Net Nanny” operation by the State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force. Most of the men were arrested on suspicion of attempted child rape and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

“This is eye-opening. This is not a city problem, it’s not a county problem, it’s not even a state problem – this is a national issue. We’re just at the tip of the iceberg for disconcerting crimes that are out there,” Lt. James Mjor of the State Patrol said.

Mjor said it’s important for parents to take an active role in supervising their children’s activity online and advised them to know who their children are chatting with.

“Make sure you know that friend on the other end of that, that could very well be an adult communicating with our children,” Mjor said.

Bellingham Police Chief David Doll echoed Mjor’s advice for parents, and said the number of arrests was sickening.

“It’s so important for all of us that if we have children who have access to devices and the internet that we know what they’re doing and monitor their activity because there is danger out there. We just showed that this weekend,” Doll said.

He also had a warning for sex predators who look for victims online.

“To those out there on the internet looking for children, be careful who you find because you might find us,” Doll said.

Multi-agency operation

The State Patrol, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, Bellingham Police Department and Department of Homeland Security were involved in the multi-agency operation.

Three of the men had access to 13 children who were at risk of being abused, according to State Patrol. Some of the men arrested also have ongoing investigations regarding allegations of sexual misconduct involving children, Mjor said. State Patrol will work closely with local law enforcement to follow up on the allegations, he said.

This is the 10th such sting the State Patrol has conducted. A similar operation in the Tri-Cities last summer resulted in 26 arrests. In the last two years, there have been 159 arrests and 22 identified rescued child victims statewide.

The agency has a 100 percent conviction rate on those cases that have gone to trial, the State Patrol said.

Some of the men arrested in this sting also had convictions for assault or lengthy criminal histories, others had no criminal history. Many of them had access to weapons and showed up with weapons when they went to the crime scene – a new development for the State Patrol’s operations, Mjor said.

The sting

Late last week, undercover detectives posted or responded to Craigslist ads online advertising for meet ups of a sexual nature, according to Mjor. Once the men responded, the detectives would either pose as young teenage children, or as parents offering up their young children for sexual contact – some as young as 6 years old.

Mjor said the operation targeted open-source pages, such as Craigslist, or websites that any kids could access.

“We’re in an area of the internet where two consensual adults can go and legally inquire about sex, that’s not illegal. But what is illegal is when we answer ads where people are specifically looking for children or we post an ad and they answer knowing that or thinking that they’re talking to a 13-, 11-, 12-year-old child,” Mjor said.

Many of the men arrested used graphic descriptions of sex acts they wanted to perform with the children, or what they wanted the children to do to them, court records show. Many also sent nude photos of themselves.

Probable cause statements for all of those arrested detailed graphic sexual conversations between the men and undercover detectives.

The arrests stemming from Operation Net Nanny resulted in the capture of those seeking out very young and very vulnerable children for sexual exploitation and contact.

Whatcom County Sheriff

Once the conversations progressed far enough, the officer would give the men a location to drive to, and then a separate address. Once the men entered the house, they were arrested, court and police records show.

The operation generated hundreds of responses, some from Canada, but the men who were arrested traveled to meet the undercover detectives with the intent to engage in sexual activity with children, the State Patrol said.

“The arrests stemming from Operation Net Nanny resulted in the capture of those seeking out very young and very vulnerable children for sexual exploitation and contact,” Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said. “Hopefully these arrests will cut short these predators as they search out victims and also serve as a deterrent to those with similar intentions, and even save lives.”

Mjor said the undercover detectives are highly trained in this area, which helps them avoid entrapment issues or getting the cases thrown out when they go to court. State Patrol also works with federal and county prosecutors and a lot of pre-planning goes into the operation, he said.

“We’re not doing anything other than identifying ourselves as a child and then they open up the conversations about the criminal misconduct. We don’t lead them down a path, we walk a very straight line on that and it’s heavily monitored,” Mjor said.

20 men arrested

A Whatcom County Superior Court commissioner found probable cause Friday to charge the first seven men arrested; the rest were expected to appear in court late Monday or early Tuesday. Formal criminal charges for all the men must be filed by the middle of the week.

Most of the men will have their arraignments at 9 a.m. on Dec. 22.

Expected to have appeared in court late Monday or early Tuesday are:

Gilberto Chino Acatitlan: Chino Acatitlan, 28, was arrested Friday night on suspicion of attempted second-degree child rape, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

Chino Acatitlan responded to an on Craigslist, in which an undercover detective responded posing as a 13-year-old girl. A sexual conversation ensued, multiple pictures were exchanged, and Chino Acatitlan was arrested when he showed up to the pre-detemined location, Washington State Patrol records show.

Jason Justin Lundberg: Lundberg, 43, was arrested Saturday morning on suspicion of attempted second-degree child rape, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, commercial sexual abuse of a minor, manufacturing/delivering methamphetamine, delivering a scheduled substance to a minor and a controlled substance transfer involving a minor.

Lundberg responded to a Craigslist ad where a detective posed as a 13-year-old girl. A sexual conversation took place and Lundberg drove to the pre-determined location given by the detective. Twenty dollars and a meth pipe were found on Lundberg during his arrest, State Patrol records show.

Matthew Allen Severson: Severson, 51, was arrested Saturday morning on suspicion of two counts of attempted first-degree child rape.

Severson responded to a Craigslist ad where a detective posed as a mother of two young daughters. A short sexual conversation took place, followed by a 15-minute phone call with other undercover detectives.

Severson was arrested at a pre-determined location early after he came under surveillance due to his extensive and violent criminal history, the records state. Severson had also brought Slurpees for the girls, State Patrol records show.

Tanner Matthew Ness: Ness, 21, of Woodinville was arrested Saturday on suspicion of attempted first-degree child rape, attempted second-degree child rape and two counts of commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

Ness responded to a Craigslist ad where a detective posed as a mother of two young daughters. A sexual conversation took place and Ness was arrested after he drove to the pre-determined location. Ness had two $20 Visa gift cards on his person, State Patrol records show.

Aaron A. Aguilar: Aguilar, 26, of Bellingham was arrested early Sunday morning on suspicion of two counts of attempted second-degree rape of a child, two counts of commercial sexual abuse of a minor and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.

Aguilar responded to an ad where an undercover detective posed as a 13-year-old girl. A conversation took place where Aguilar and the detective exchanged information regarding payment for sexual favors. Aguilar also asked for it to happen monthly, State Patrol records show. Money, condoms and spiced Rum were found on Aguilar when he was arrested, records show.

Simson D. Assink: Assink, 23, of Bellingham was arrested early Sunday morning on suspicion of attempted first-degree rape of a child.

Assink responded to an ad where an undercover agent posted as a mother of two girls, ages 11 and 6. The detective told Assink that the girls liked Slurpees and suckers, and Assink brought both with him to the pre-determined location where he was arrested, State Patrol records state.

Christopher M. Brown: Brown, 39, of Bellingham was arrested early Saturday morning on suspicion of attempted first-degree rape of a child.

Brown responded to an ad where an undercover detective posed as a 13-year-old, but decided the girl was too young and he believed he was communicating with a cop. Brown then responded to a second ad where a detective posed as a mother of two young children, ages 11 and 6, State Patrol records show. Brown was initially hesitant, but then decided to meet up, records show. Brown drove to the pre-determined location, waited for a moment, and then drove away. Brown was stopped and arrested, records show.

Mark A. Fagin: Fagin, 43, of Bellingham was arrested Saturday night on suspicion of two counts of first-degree rape of a child and two counts of commercial sexual abuse of a minor.

Fagin responded to an ad where a detective posed as a mother of children, ages 11 and 6, and a sexual conversation took place, State Patrol records show. A rose, a Star Wars blanket, a Starbucks gift card and baby oil were found on Fagin when he was arrested.

David L. Fissori: Fissori, 40, of Bellingham was arrested early Saturday morning on suspicion of attempted first-degree rape of a child and atempted second-degree rape of a child.

Fissori responded to an ad where an undercover detective posed as a mother of two young girls, and a sexual conversation ensued. Fissori went to the pre-determined location and was arrested, State Patrol records show.

Mark E. Garst: Garst, 57, of Deming was arrested Saturday afternoon on suspicion of two counts of first-degree rape of a child, two counts of commercial sexual abuse of a minor and two counts of attempted sexual exploitation of a minor.

Garst responded to an ad where a detective was posing as a mother of a 6-year-old daughter, 11-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. A sexual conversation took place and Garst was arrested at a pre-determined location. He had a cowboy hat he had agreed to wear, two $50 Target gift cards and a knife on his person when he was arrested. Detectives also found a loaded pistol, a rifle and a camera in his car, State Patrol records show.

George Vincent Rickle Jr.: Riddle, 66, of Poulsbo was arrested early Sunday morning on suspicion of two counts of attempted second-degree child rape, two counts of commercial sexual abuse of a minor and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, according to State Patrol records.

Rickle responded to an ad on Craigslist. Once Rickle responded, an agent pretended to be a 13-year-old girl, who had another teenage female friend. A conversation ensued between the detective and Rickle discussing payment for sexual favors, State Patrol records state.

Jeffrey A. Weinstein: Weinstein, 41, of Bellingham was arrested late Sunday night on suspicion of two counts of attempted second-degree child rape and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

Weinstein responded to a Craigslist ad where an undercover detective posed as a 13-year-old runaway looking for sex. A sexual conversation took place and multiple photos were exchanged, records show. Some time later, Weinstein sent a text message to the undercover detective from a new number pretending to be someone else who had already been emailing with the detective, State Patrol records show.

Under his first persona, Weinstein went to the first pre-determined location, but did not cooperate with the directions sent by the detective. Surveillance units began checking license plate registrations in the area and found a truck registered to Weinstein, records show. Under his second persona, Weinstein went to a second pre-determined address where he was arrested, the records state.

George Milton Welch IV: Welch, 26, of Bellingham arrested Saturday afternoon on suspicion of two counts of attempted second-degree rape of a child, two counts of commercial sexual abuse of a minor, communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and distributing to a person under 18.

Welch responded to a Craigslist ad where an undercover detective posed as a 13-year-old girl. A sexual conversation took place and Welch rode his bike to a pre-determined location where he was arrested. Welch had marijuana on him at the time of his arrests, State Patrol records show.

Jaime Roberto Anderson: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Anderson, 33, of Bellingham, with two counts of second-degree attempted rape of a child and one count of attempt to communicate with a minor for immoral purposes. The court set bail at $20,000.

Anderson responded to an ad where an undercover detective posed as a 13-year-old girl, with another friend of a similar age. Anderson allegedly asked multiple times whether the girl and her friend were escorts. He also asked whether the girl was affiliated with law enforcement and trying to trap him, but the undercover detective responded that they weren’t police and were just looking for a hookup, according to court records.

Marc Vincent Archer: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Archer, 60, of Bellingham, with attempted second-degree rape of a child and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Bail was set at $20,000.

Archer responded to an ad where a detective posed as a 13-year-old boy. Multiple text and email conversations ensued.

Chadwin Alexander Hagens: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Chadwin Hagens, 24, of Bellingham with attempted first-degree rape of a child, attempted second-degree rape of a child and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. The court set bail at $20,000.

Hagens responded to an ad where an undercover detective posed as a mother of two children, ages 6 and 11, looking for people who wanted to engage in sexual activity with the children, court records show.

The agent also told Hagens the children liked Slurpees and lollipops, both of which were found on Hagens when he was arrested, court records state.

Steven William Johnson: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Johnson, 45, of Bellingham with attempted second-degree rape of a child and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. The court set bail at $40,000.

Johnson responded to an ad where the detective posed as a mother of two children, ages 6 and 11, looking for people who wanted to engage in sexual activity with the children. Johnson also responded to a second ad posted on Craigslist where the agent was posing as a 13-year-old girl.

Aaron Lee Kinley: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Kinley, 26, of Bellingham with attempted second-degree rape of a child and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Bail was set at $10,000.

Kinley responded to an ad where an undercover detective posed as a 13-year-old girl, court records show.

Dillon Russell Lawson: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Lawson, 20, of Mount Vernon with attempted first-degree rape of a child, attempted second-degree rape of a child and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Bail was set at $10,000.

Lawson responded to an ad with an undercover detective posing as a mother of two children, ages 11 and 13, court records state. Lawson allegedly showed up to the predetermined location to meet the girls was wearing a Santa hat and with two $25 Macy’s gift cards, court records show.

James Danny Ortiz Jr.: The court found probable cause Friday to charge Ortiz, 24, of Everson with attempted second-degree rape of a child and attempted communication with a minor for immoral purposes. The court set bail at $10,000.

Ortiz responded to one ad posted on Craigslist, but when the detective responded, Ortiz did not. Ortiz then responded to a second ad, and stopped communicating as soon as the detective responded. Ortiz then responded to a third ad, in which a conversation of a sexual nature ensued, court records state.

The agent was posing as a 13-year-old girl, and Ortiz allegedly responded with, “You don’t look 13, but maybe it’s the ears and nose,” court records state. Ortiz took a bus to get to the predetermined address and was arrested.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

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