BELLEVUE, WI (WTAQ) - Law enforcement agencies in Northeast and Central Wisconsin have arrested 15 people in six counties during an Internet Crimes Against Children Operation.
According to FOX 11, Door, Brown, Outagamie and Marathon counties took part in the sting aimed at cracking down on potential child sex predators.
Authorities say Operation Black Veil II began around 9:00 a.m. Wednesday in a back room at the Door County Sheriff's Department.
"A lot of people looking for sexual pleasures, wide range of what people are looking for. Incredible," Sturgeon Bay Police Sergeant Greg Zager told FOX 11.
Investigators from a number of local agencies went online to Craigslist, posing as either a 15-year-old boy or girl.
It's the first sting they are doing that will include the weekend, a time when they believe perhaps more potential offenders will be online.
The chatters not only post ads looking to attract predators, but also respond to ads posted by those who want to engage in explicit acts with children.
"I responded to an ad from him and he thinks he's talking to a 15-year-old girl, and he wants her to do some sexual acts to him," said Stenzel.
One officer responds to a post from a person looking for sex. He gets a reply back within 10 minutes. He continues to monitor posts and respond to them.
"He didn't say no yet. He just says he doesn't want any trouble," Stenzel said about a response he received. At 9 a.m., most people would be at work, but the investigators' email inboxes eventually begin to fill up with messages from people desiring to meet up with someone who they think is a child.
"With technology, it really is making it easier for these predators to lure in these younger people and use them for whatever needs they want," said Door County Sheriff Terry Vogel.
The chats in some cases lead to text and even phone conversations.
"I'm not available until noon because that's when mom goes to work," said Stenzel as he typed the words into a cell phone.
By day two of the operation more than 200 contacts are made. That means someone has shown interest in having sex with a child even if it happens or not.
"I asked him what he's interested in and he said sex or whatever you want to do," said Zager.
Investigators say 28-year-old Albert Ruleford of Howard agreed to meet some boys at a gas station on Velp Avenue in Howard. However, once officers get into position, those plans quickly change. They soon find, through communicating by cell phone with the suspect, he wants the boys to come to him.
"The circumstance there is we knew the person was on foot, so our surveillance teams were watching, making sure it was somebody on foot, the direction he was coming from was up Memorial Drive, we try to get a clothing description if we possibly can from the person," Brown County Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Sanborn tells FOX 11.
Investigators did get a clothing description, and the suspect's decision not to meet at the set-up location didn't deter officers who surrounded him and took him into custody just a couple blocks away from the station. Ruleford did not resist the arrest. We asked how officers knew they had the right person.
"He started floating around that area, didn't go to our meet location, kept him on the phone, our surveillance team observed him on his phone texting, first thing we did when we made contact with him was had our person that's chatting with him call that phone. As soon as that phone rings, we know we have our person," explained Sanborn.
On Friday, Ruleford appeared in court by teleconference on recommended charges of Child Enticement, Use of a Computer to Facilitate a Child Sex Crime, Indecent Exposure to a Minor and Drug Possession. He was not formally charged, but the prosecutor read what he claimed to be Ruleford's confession to police. In it, Ruleford told police he was walking to meet up with two 15-year-old boys he had been communicating with on the computer and by text throughout the day.
"My intention was to engage in sexual activity with the two 15-year-old boys, if that was what they were still interested in doing," read Brown County Assistant District Attorney Tom Coaty.
On Thursday, authorities arrested 34-year-old Victor Iakimenko of Green Bay. They took him into custody at a Bellevue gas station. Court documents show officers who were in contact with Iakimenko say he thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl. The agreement was she would perform a sexual act on him for $25.
Brown County prosecutors charged Iakimenko in court Friday with Use of a Computer to Facilitate a Sex Crime.
Law enforcement officials say the goal is to let the public know about the prevalence of Internet Crimes Against Children.
Operation Black Veil II ran Wednesday through Saturday. These investigators decided to work the sting into a weekend to see if activity increases on days when people have more free time.
"People are not working, children are out of school, so the potential for these individuals to get online to chat, they feel more comfortable because they know that maybe a 15-year-old girl will typically be in school on a weekday, but on a weekend they're free and they can move about and meet an individual like this," said Brown County Sheriff's Captain Dave Konrath.
Friday, officers made several arrests, including one just before 5 p.m. at a Green Bay area bowling alley. Authorities say a 26-year-old man was expecting to meet a 15-year-old boy for a sexual act.
Law enforcement officers say the problem of Internet crimes against children isn't going away. And neither are they.
"They'll going to continue to do this whether we're out there or not. But we want to make sure that our society here, or our community here in Green Bay, is safe and we're taking the measures to ensure the safety of both our community and our children," Konrath said.
Brown County Sheriff's officials are holding a news conference Monday to talk about the investigation and reveal the charges against the suspects.