Thirteen people were arrested on charges of trying to solicit children via social media and online classified ads.
Thirteen people were arrested on charges of trying to solicit children via social media and online classified ads after an undercover investigation by state and local authorities, the state police announced Thursday.
The men thought they were arranging to meet with children from 13 to 15 years old. They were actually talking to undercover investigators in the state police-run Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
“Child predators are constantly looking for juveniles to exploit and prey upon,” Col. James Manni of the Rhode Island State Police said at a news conference at the agency’s North Scituate headquarters announcing the arrests Thursday. “Parents must remain vigilant in communicating with their children and monitoring their child’s social media platforms.”
The operation was based out of downtown Providence and took place Saturday and Sunday. Months of preparation went into Operation Guardian.
All were charged with indecent solicitation of a child. Others faced additional charges, including electronically disseminating indecent material to a minor and, in one case, cocaine possession.
One of the suspects, Pawtucket resident Tomy Fitton, is a sex offender in Massachusetts, but his registration expired in July, the state police said.
The state police-run ICAC unit is made up of the agency’s own investigators, as well as detectives at local departments around the state.
It’s a challenging assignment, Manni noted. They’re trying to help some of society’s most vulnerable people, and trying to arrest among its most monstrous criminals. Its investigations into child pornography cases involve analyzing evidence that is shocking to the conscience.
Many of the unit’s members are parents themselves.
“It’s a difficult unit to be in, but it is also probably the most rewarding unit you can be in,” said state police Sgt. Damien Longo. “Because you do rescue children, and you do take the worst people off the streets.”
The police declined to identify the exact social media applications and online classified ads they used, but the sheer number suggested the breadth and scope of not only the investigation, but the problem of children being solicited via the internet: 16.
“It makes it a lot easier for the predators to access children online,” Longo said. “In the past, decades ago, there was no internet for that access to be there.”
The local men charged include Anthony Gomes, 31, of 10 Main St., Apt. 1, Brockton, who was charged with indecent solicitation of a child and electronically disseminating indecent material to a minor; James Jolly, 41, of 47 Barden Hill Road, Middleboro, who was charged with indecent solicitation of a child; and Paul Kimata, 41, of 685 Oak St., Apt. 27, Brockton, who was charged with indecent solicitation of a child.