Twenty-six men have been arrested over the past five days for allegedly showing up at a Richland apartment intending to have sex with young girls and boys.
The suspects nabbed in the multi-agency effort range in age from 20 to 70, with 22 of them living in Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
The child sex sting, dubbed “Tri-Cities Net Nanny Operation,” involved undercover detectives using various websites to chat with people interested in having sex with children.
In some cases, the officers answered postings that already existed on sites like Craigslist and Backpage.com. However, the majority of them were ads placed on about five to 10 websites by officers claiming to either be kids as young as 11 or parents who were offering their children for sex.
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The postings generated thousands of responses. But it was the would-be perpetrators who actually traveled to the apartment who were arrested, said Washington State Patrol Lt. James Mjor.
“What is most disturbing as a law enforcement officer, I shudder to think what would have happened if one of these 26 suspects met a real child,” Mjor said. “The hard part of this job is not dealing with the predators, but seeing the devastation they do to actual children.”
“This operation actually saved an unknown number of children who would have otherwise been victimized by these suspects,” he added. “One victim would have been one too many.”
Even more troubling, Mjor said, is a few of the suspects brought drugs to the meet-up. intending to give them to 11- and 13-year-old kids.
The operation was led by the state patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force, with 45 local, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors participating.
Officers had been working on the operation for some time, setting up the online ads and communicating with those who responded to see if they were interested in meeting up, said Trooper Chris Thorson.
The arrests were made at night between Wednesday and Sunday.
“We realize that this is just a tip of the iceberg,” Thorson told the Herald.
After the men were arrested at the complex, their cars were either impounded or seized as part of the investigation. Officers served multiple search warrants on digital media, vehicles and the suspects themselves, Mjor said.
The crimes investigated include attempted rape, distributing drugs to a person under 18, commercial sex abuse of a minor, possessing and dealing child pornography, and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
As part of the investigation, five people were identified who have access to children at risk of being abused, Mjor said. Now they’re working to identify those kids and get them appropriate assistance.
Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner credited the 2015 voter-approved public safety sales tax with allowing his department and the Southeast Regional Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to play a big role in the operation.
“The piece of this that I think is really important for us is that while Richland and others were key partners in what we were able to accomplish this weekend, this isn’t necessarily a Richland issue. This is a Tri-Cities issue,” Skinner said during a news briefing.
“Oftentimes we think of ourselves here on an island and that we don’t deal or have to deal with some of these big-city crimes that you hear about on the west side of the state, but we do,” he said.
The chief added that these types of crimes — child porn, online enticement of children and commercial sexual exploitation of children — happen every single day in the community
“But for our intervention, if these online predators are looking for these types of situations, then those connections get made,” Skinner said.
“In this particular case we had the ability to offer them the opportunity, they took advantage of the opportunity, and subsequently have been arrested and hopefully will be adjudicated and spend a lot of time in jail,” he said.
This is the eighth Net Nanny Operation in Washington state since August 2015, which have led to 115 arrests and 21 victims rescued.
“Children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to sexual predators due to the growth of the internet,” Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste said. “Thanks to the hard work by our law enforcement and prosecutor partners, we are able to make Washington communities safer for our families.”
Mjor said authorities intended last Wednesday to be a setup day before officially starting the Tri-City operation, but they ended up arresting three men that night. Those three were booked into the Benton County jail in the early hours of Thursday, and charged Monday.
Ryan D. Harris, 32, of Pendleton, faces one count each of attempted second-degree child rape and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
Douglas V. Arbogast, 70, of Pasco, is charged with attempted first-degree child rape and attempted second-degree child rape.
Marco A. Celis-Hernandez, 21, of Richland, faces attempted first-degree child rape and commercial sex abuse of a minor.
The remaining men locked up have investigative holds for both felonies and misdemeanors. A few also have Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds.
Prosecutors will review the rest of the cases this week and determine whether to file charges. Mjor said he anticipates most of them will stay at the state level, but added that some may bump up to federal court and be handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The other 23 arrested are:
▪ Andrew L. Sanders, 33, Pasco
▪ John M. Scheline, 40, Pasco
▪ Gabriel Saenz, 41, Kennewick
▪ William J. Barrett, 47, Kennewick
▪ Darren J. Kerbyson, 50, West Richland
▪ James C. Doty, 34, Richland
▪ Yasir M. Majeed, 35, Kennewick
▪ Gregory B. Taber, 65, Pasco
▪ John N. Schouviller, 31, Pasco
▪ Antonio C. Garcia, 21, Richland
▪ Lucas F. Beach, 38, Pasco
▪ Stephen C. Perez, 45, Pasco
▪ Ali Almafoodh, 35, Kennewick
▪ Kyle R. Sickels, 25, Kennewick
▪ Jesus G. Contreras Salgado, 29, Tieton
▪ Dewayne L. Hetrick, 42, Kennewick
▪ Thomas A. Swarers, 69, Kennewick
▪ Jerome G. Williams, 24, Kennewick
▪ James C. Escobedo, 20, Kennewick
▪ Yuriy L. Gulchuk, 35, Kennewick
▪ Jairo Lopez, 20, Yakima
▪ Aaron D. Hagerty, 42, Kennewick
▪ Daniel A. Medina, 20, Pendleton
Other agencies involved in the operation were Kennewick police, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and Prosecutor’s Office, the Washington Attorney General’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations and state patrol’s High-Tech Crime Unit, Criminal Investigations Division and District 3 Field Operations Bureau.
Costs of the operation were covered in large part by a donation from the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad.
People who have information on the suspects or about the identity of potential victims can send an email to the Missing and Exploited Children Task Force, firstname.lastname@example.org, attention Sgt. Carlos Rodriguez.