FAIRFAX, Va. - Fairfax County Police's Child Exploitation Unit teamed up with investigators from Loudoun County and the FBI for a "To Catch a Predator"-style three-day operation.
According to Fairfax County police, detectives posing as juveniles went online and within a very short period of time, received solicitations and sexually explicit images from men wanting to meet the "child" for the purpose of engaging in inappropriate sexual activity.
Police say the suspect and "child" would arrange a time and place to meet and when the suspect arrived, he was taken into custody.
Investigators did not want to reveal specifics about their tactics, but generally, police use chat rooms, social media sites and other websites to find child predators.
"It's easy to make the contact,” said Fairfax County Police Officer Don Gotthardt. “That is what is so frightening.”
He said investigators often do not have to go searching for predators who are looking for children.
"It can be instantaneous, literally," Gotthardt said. "From the time they sign on, start a conversation, the response, the images, the requests, they are almost instantaneous."
He said young people in their early teens are often targeted, and it is not just girls.
"Anecdotally, it is as likely for a young boy to be solicited as for a young girl," Gotthardt said.
The men arrested are between 20 to 64 years old. We found some of the suspects are fathers. One of the men, Aristotle Panapolous, is already a registered sex offender.
FOX 5 asked some parents in Fairfax about how they monitor their kids online.
"The main policy is they don't have access to online and social media," said father Jack Ramos. "They have their apparatuses on the weekend and certain timeframes, and we are there and everything is parental-controlled."
"We also use a program called Qustodio that tracks their time [online] and also tracks which sites they go to," said mother Dorothy Brady. "It limits them from going to bad places."
Detectives said they want to emphasize to parents that this kind of crime is prevalent and encourage them to pay attention to what their children are doing online.
"Watch over them, be physically present and have them use their electronic device in a common area in the house so that they are not alone, so that they know that their parent is literally looking over their shoulder," said Officer Gotthardt. “It may sound kind of harsh, but it is for a good reason in the end."
Police have named seven of the eight men arrested:
- Joseph Selkow Garcia, 30, of Woodbridge, Va., – charged with indecent liberties and computer solicitation
- Fernando Barbosa, 46, of Fairfax Station, Va. – charged with attempted indecent liberties and computer solicitation
- Joshua Veary, 23, of Reston, Va. – charged with three counts of computer solicitation
- Mohammad Abdo, 20, of Gainesville, Va. – charged with solicitation for prostitution, computer solicitation and attempted indecent liberties
- Kirk Mason, 43, of Lothian, Md. – charged with computer solicitation
- Aristotle Panopoulos, 33, of McLean, Va. – charged with computer solicitation and attempted indecent liberties
- Steven Hill, 64, of Woodbridge, Va. – charged with computer solicitation and attempted indecent exposure
Police have withheld the name of the eighth suspect arrested because of an ongoing investigation.