"Operation Watchful Guardians” Targets Online Child Predators and Victims of Child Sex Trafficking

February 10, 2016

Decatur, GA – A total of 35 people were arrested during a mutually coordinated operation between Georgia and Tennessee law enforcement agencies. Operation Watchful Guardians targeted online child predators and those who traffic both children and adults in the sex industry, to include those that are willing to pay to have sex with a child. 

The joint, proactive undercover investigation was coordinated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), along with the Whitfield County, GA Sheriff’s Office, the Dalton, GA Police Department, the Chattanooga, TN Police Department, and members of both the Georgia and Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces. Operation Watchful Guardians was conducted over a three day period beginning February 2, 2016, and was centered in Dalton, GA and Chattanooga, TN.

In Georgia, 12 people were arrested over a two day period beginning Wednesday, February 3, 2016. Those arrested in Georgia were charged with crimes to include Criminal Attempt to Commit Child Molestation, OCGA 16-4-1, and Criminal Attempt to Commit Trafficking of Persons for Labor or Sexual Servitude, OCGA 16-5-46. One adult was identified and arrested on adult prostitution related charges. Investigations continue and additional charges may be forthcoming.

The arrestees, ranging in age from 19 to 43, traveled primarily from areas around Dalton and Chattanooga, but some from as far as Gwinnett County, GA (a near 2 hour drive from northeast Metro Atlanta), with the intent to meet a child for sex. Some of those who were arrested had agreed to pay to have sex with the child. One person was arrested with a gun and a butcher knife. Some of their occupations included students, sales associates, tree cutters, and truck drivers.

Along with the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes (CEACC) Unit, the Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC), Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office, Dalton Police Department, and four additional law enforcement agencies participated in Operation Watchful Guardians as members of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. These agencies were:

  1. Woodstock, GA Police Department
  2. Polk County, GA Sheriff’s Office
  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation
  4. Homeland Security Investigations

The purpose of Operation Watchful Guardians was to arrest those that are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor, and the recruitment of victims of child sex trafficking. The operation specifically targeted the demand side of child sex trafficking. The operation also targeted those persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. Online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex.  The children these predators target are both boys and girls. 

The following were arrested and charged in Whitfield County as part of Operation Watchful Guardians:

  1. Virgil McKeachie, W/M, from Rydal, GA, 38 years of age, unemployed
  2. Kekuta Jatta, B/M, from Smyrna, GA, 20 years of age, college student
  3. Amber Gaston, W/F, from Chattanooga, TN, manufacturing worker
  4. Jin Lee, A/M, from Buford, GA, 26 years of age, occupation unknown
  5. Carlos Rivas-Canales, H/M, from Adairsville, GA, 32 years of age, occupation unknown
  6. Warren Hicks, W/M, from White, GA, 21 years of age, factory worker/college student
  7. Albert Stafford, W/M from Acworth, GA, 43 years of age, manager for a temp agency
  8. Javier Lopez, H/M, from Marietta, GA, 23 years of age, phone company sales associate
  9. Nathan Murawski, W/M, from Marietta, GA, 36 years of age, paper delivery service
  10. Martin Juarez Jr., H/M, from Huntersville, TX, 25 years of age, tree cutting service
  11. Josue Cartagena, H/M, from Cedar Park, TX, 19 years of age, tree cutting service
  12. Francis Larety, B/M, from Grayson, GA, 41 years of age, truck driver

The proactive online investigation was a coordinated effort amongst law enforcement agencies in both Georgia and Tennessee to combat this activity. Cooperation is always important in law enforcement, but it is never more important than when we set out to protect children. Operation Watchful Guardians has given us an opportunity to share our experience, information, and resources across units, agencies, and state lines, to make sure that there is no safe place to hide for criminals who would victimize the most vulnerable among us. The coordinated effort included constant communication between the GBI and TBI. During the operation, law enforcement officials from Tennessee provided leads to those conducting the operation in Georgia which lead to the arrest of one person.

The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of 200+ local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U. S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. This support encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, prevention and community education. The ICAC Program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims. By helping state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective and sustainable responses to online child victimization and child pornography, the ICAC program delivers national resources at the local level.

The Georgia ICAC Task Force made 244 arrests in 2015. The GA ICAC TF received almost 3,000 tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2015 and worked 3,872 investigations related to child exploitation.  The GA ICAC TF also conducted 391 internet safety presentations. 

Contact: SAC Debbie Garner | debbie.garner@gbi.ga.gov