BARTOW COUNTY, Ga. - Georgia authorities have arrested 20 people in Bartow County as part of a four-day child sex sting known as "Operation Paladin."
The 20 people arrested, ranging from 20 to 59-years-old, were arrested after traveling to Bartow County "with the intent to meet a child for sex," officials said. They have all been charged with violating the Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007 or trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude. Additional charges may be forthcoming.
Police say "Operation Paladin" began on Nov. 1 after several months of planning and was intended to arrest suspects who would communicate with children online and then meet them for sex.
"The goal is to arrest those who are seeking to have sex with a child," said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Debbie Garner.
According to officials, investigators had more than 200 exchanges with subjects on multiple online platforms. Of those, they say they established over 30 cases that met the threshold to arrest.
"Many of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact with whom they believed to be a minor and directed the conversation towards sex," the GBI said in a statement. "In some of those cases, the subject introduced obscene or lewd content, often exposing the minor (undercover) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them."
Police say that one person arrested was a registered sex offender. Multiple people were arrested possessing suspected illegal drugs. One person possessed a firearm.
The men came from a number of different cities in Georgia to Bartow County where they thought they were meeting a child they had been chatting with online.
Residents in Bartow County were shocked to hear about the arrests and pleased to know the sting worked.
"To think that there are creeps out there who are trying to lure these children," said Lynn Lenton.
"I''m glad they were busted, they deserve what they get!" said Judy Borkowsky.
Last year, the Georgia ICAC Task Force made 350 arrests connected to cyber enticement and child pornography cases.