The first three men nabbed last week in a child sex sting were arraigned Tuesday in a Kennewick courtroom.
Douglas V. Arbogast, Ryan D. Harris and Marco A. Celis Hernandez all face Sept. 5 trial dates in Benton County Superior Court for allegedly trying to have sex with kids after responding to online ads.
A total of 26 men were arrested over five days as part of a multi-agency effort dubbed “Tri-Cities Net Nanny Operation.” Only three of the suspects are from outside the Tri-Cities.
Undercover detectives answered postings that already existed on various websites and placed their own ads claiming to be kids as young as 11 or parents who were offering their children for sex.
Washington State Patrol Lt. James Mjor said the postings in which the officers posed as parents or kids are no different than the thousands of real advertisements that already are on the internet.
After chatting with the men, including via text messages, arrangements were made for the would-be perpetrators to meet up at a Richland apartment or another location before being given the residential address, according to law enforcement and court documents.
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.
Arbogast, Harris and Celis Hernandez were the first to be charged because they were arrested the first night, July 5, as authorities were still setting up the Tri-City operation.
Charges were filed Tuesday afternoon against five more suspects, and the final 18 must be charged Wednesday or be released from custody.
Arbogast, 70, pleaded innocent to attempted first-degree rape of a child and attempted second-degree rape of a child.
Prosecutors say he responded to an ad by an undercover officer who claimed to be a mother who likes to watch men having sex with her 11-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
Arbogast exchanged emails and texts with the “mother” and said he was willing to come to her home to have sex with the kids, understanding the ages of the boy and girl and that the mother would not engage in any sex acts, court documents said.
After his arrest, Arbogast told police “that age is just a number,” documents said. He claimed he went to the home intending to only meet the mother.
Deputy Prosecutor Diana Ruff told the court Tuesday that even though Arbogast has no criminal history, he is facing 7 1/2 to 10 years in prison with a maximum of life if convicted of the felony charges.
That essentially is a life sentence for Arbogast given his age, so he has a high incentive to flee, Ruff said.
Lawyer Sam Swanberg, who was hired by Arbogast, argued that his client has lived his entire life in Pasco, has been married for 46 years and has strong ties to the community, which gives him plenty of reasons to remain in the Tri-Cities.
Arbogast was honorably discharged from the Navy after four years and had a career as an instrumental technician, Swanberg added.
Judge Alex Ekstrom set bail at the requested $10,000.
Arbogast was released from the Benton County jail at 5:10 p.m. after posting bond. He is to have no unsupervised contact with minors, and must have another adult present when around his teen grandchildren or other underage relatives.
Harris, 32, used to live in Pendleton but recently relocated to the Tri-Cities to start fresh with a new job and live closer to family, according to Eric Hsu, Benton County’s public defense manager. Shelley Ajax was appointed to represent him.
Harris answered an ad in which a 13-year-old boy said he was interested in older men for “play,” according to court documents.
Harris allegedly sent a nude picture of a man in his initial email, and later went into graphic details of what he intended to do with the teen.
He was arrested at the meet-up location, and later told police that if the boy had been real he would have taken him home to have sex with him, documents said.
Harris pleaded innocent to attempted second-degree rape of a child and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
The court appointed Swanberg to represent Celis Hernandez. The 21-year-old Richland man is charged with attempted first-degree rape of a child and commercial sex abuse of a minor.
Prosecutors say Celis Hernandez agreed to pay $75 for sex acts with an 11-year-old girl after answering an ad about a mother who likes to watch men have “taboo” fun with her kids.
Celis Hernandez at one point said he wasn’t sure how the arrangement worked, then clarified that he was interested after an undercover officer said this wasn’t for him, court documents said.
He was arrested after walking into the fictitious mother’s home and was found to have enough cash on him to cover the agreement, documents said.
Both Harris and Celis Hernandez had bail set at $10,000 and were told by Ekstrom to stay away from any minors.
Other defendants charged Tuesday were:
▪ Andrew L. Sanders, 33, John M. Scheline, 40, Gabriel Saenz, 41, and Darren J. Kerbyson, 50, all with one count each of attempted second-degree child rape.
▪ William J. Barrett, 47, with attempted first-degree child rape, attempted second-degree child rape and attempted distribution of methamphetamine to a person under 18.