Operation nets 18 suspected online child predators

Larry Hobbs

May 17–One by one, grown men arrived at a location in Glynn County, allegedly following through on plans to have sex with a child.
And one by one, these men instead were met by law enforcement officers who put them in jail for their alleged crimes. Operation Riptide took place Thursday through early Monday morning, resulting in the arrest of 18 men charged with crimes related to using the Internet to meet and arrange sexual encounters with minors, according to Commander Debbie Garner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
The five-day sting operation netted suspects from all walks of life, including a commodities trader from Minnesota, a firefighter/EMT from Waynesville and a food and beverage manager from Jacksonville. Also arrested were Bryant Keith Taylor, 35, and Rigoberto Margarito Hernandez, 21. Both men remained Monday in the Glynn County Detention Center, charged with use of a computer service to seduce, solicit, lure or entice a child to commit a felony.
The GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit worked in conjunction with the Glynn County Police Department on the operation, which began in January. Officers went online undercover, posing as children, and were allegedly contacted by the suspects, Garner said.
“Our goal is arresting people who do this,” Garner said Monday afternoon at a press conference at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, just hours after the operation concluded. “Our job as a task force is to protect our children and, obviously, these people can’t get to our children anymore.”
Operation Riptide was the most recent of several similar actions statewide targeted at sexual predators who contact minors online with the intent to meet for sex, Garner said. Glynn County was chosen mainly because of the GBI unit’s working relationship with the county police on previous operations. But it could have taken place anywhere, she said.
“This type of thing is happening all across the country,” she said.
Glynn County police assigned six investigators to Operation Riptide from its start in January, police chief Matt Doering said. Up to 32 county police officers worked on the operation during the past five days, he said. The Brunswick Police Department also assigned officers to the operation. Numerous other agencies also took part, including the McIntosh County Sheriff’s Office, the Atlanta Police Department and the FBI.
Online contact took place in various social media venues, many of them seemingly innocent Internet locations. All of the arrests took place at the same location in Glynn County, with each suspect allegedly thinking he was meeting a minor for sex, Garner said.
Officers worked 12- to 16-hour stints daily, once the arrests started Thursday, Doering said.
“I can assure you,” Doering said, “watching this for five days, they go to great lengths to ensure that the person arrested was the person who initiated the conversation.”
The local suspects arrested include Andrew Chase Lowe, 19, and Samuel M. Lee, 26, both of St. Marys; Ulbio Quijije, 26, of Kingsland; and Antwan Levar Politce, 26, of Hinesville.
The threat to children from predators online is very real, Doering said.
“There are a number of people out there every day that are looking for unsupervised kids, to exploit their vulnerabilities,” Doering said.
Garner urges parents to closely monitor the Internet activity of children.
“Knowing the dangers and looking out for those dangers are the things we want to try to get across,” Garner said. “We want people to know that this type of thing is happening.”
Reporter Larry Hobbs writes about government, public safety and other local topics. Contact him at [email protected] or at 265-8320, ext. 320.