FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS — Fourteen people have been arrested following a Madison County sting of people allegedly trying to engage in sex with minors.
On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean M. Cox announced the 14 arrests were the result of an FBI-led operation involving multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies that targeted online predators attempting to meet minors for sex.
Each offense allegedly occurred in Madison County. More than 50 law enforcement agents were involved in the operation.
“Instead of lurking on playgrounds, modern predators hide behind electronic devices using social media and texting apps to access young children,” said Weinhoeft.
“Serious dangers are no further away than a child’s cell phone or tablet, and we strongly urge parents to monitor their children’s online activity, be aware of who their children are talking with, and have conversations about how to stay safe online,” he said.
Cox said that, over the past weekend, FBI agents from Springfield and St. Louis partnered with law enforcement to conduct an operation to identify child predators.
During the two-day operation, undercover agents pretended to be minors in a variety of online texting, social media and message board platforms and apps. All of the defendants contacted the profiles online, engaged in sexually explicit discussions with the undercover agents and arrived at a residence with the intent to engage in sexual acts with minors.
”These are some of the most difficult, and yet the most important, investigations we work with our partners to make a positive impact in our communities and protect our children,” Cox said. “In today’s world, children have a much larger presence on social media platforms than they had in the past, which places them at far greater risk of becoming a victim to online sexual predators.
”These arrests should serve as a reminder to parents everywhere of the importance of monitoring the computer usage of their children and staying active in their lives,” Cox said.
Some of the defendants also propositioned the undercover agents to send them pornographic photos, traveled across state lines for the purpose of illicit sexual activity with a minor, and/or offered to pay money to engage in sexual activity with a minor.
All of the defendants were arrested after arriving at an undercover residence. Several came with items intended for the fictitious minors, including alcohol, sex toys, methamphetamine and, in one case, a dog leash and a dog collar with the name of the undercover profile engraved on it.
No actual minors were harmed.
“Sex trafficking and child exploitation continue to impact our communities, and we will aggressively enforce the law against those who would prey upon children,” said Weinhoeft.
All of the defendants were charged June 28-29. Arrested were:
• Brett Brimberry, 28 Glen Carbon, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Richard L. Britt, 38, Granite City, Attempted Enticement of a Minor and Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct
• Urich Gaines, 32, Belleville, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Kayln E. Hogatt, 27, Bridgeport, Attempted Enticement of a Minor and Attempted Production of Child Pornography
• Kevin Kamler, 30, O’Fallon, Missouri, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Brian Lotz, 56, Collinsville, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Anthony Parrish, 33, Swansea, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Philip M. Reis, 55, O’Fallon, Illinois, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Gerald S. Sewell, 56, Belleville, Attempted Enticement of a Minor and Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct
• James R. Sears, 35, Bridgeport, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Travis Shubert, 29, Granite City, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Preston Thomas, 57, St. Louis, Attempted Enticement of a Minor
• Nicholas Wright, 35, O’Fallon, Missouri, Attempted Enticement of a Minor, Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct and Attempted Sex Trafficking of a Child
• Vallie F. Zeller, 43, St. Louis, Attempted Enticement of a Minor, Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct and Attempted Production of Child Pornography.
Between June 29 and July 1, all 14 defendants made initial appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judges Mark Beatty or Gilbert Sison at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis. If convicted, the defendants each face a minimum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and could receive as much as life behind bars.
The offenses also carry a possible lifetime term of supervised release and fines of up to $250,000.
Pending trial, all 14 defendants will be held without bond or released on electronic monitoring and other strict conditions mandated by the Adam Walsh Act.
The cases fall under the umbrella of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
The investigation was led by the FBI-Springfield Division, with the assistance of the FBI St. Louis Division, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Belleville Police Department, the Collinsville Police Department, the Edwardsville Police Department, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Illinois State Police, the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Police Department, the St. Louis County Police Department, the Swansea Police Department, and the U.S. Secret Service.
Additional assistance was provided by the U.S. Marshals Service, the Alton jail, the Monroe County Jail and the St. Clair County Jail.
All 14 defendants’ cases will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Chris Hoell, Ali Burns, Karelia Rajagopal and Laura Reppert.