“Operation Southern Hospitality” Targets On-line Child Predators and Victims of Child Sex Trafficking

June 24, 2016

Madison, GA – As a result of a proactive undercover investigation coordinated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Madison Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Georgia and the District Attorney’s Office of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, six (6) people were arrested over a two day period beginning June 22, 2016.  The operation targeted on-line child predators and those who traffic children in the sex industry, to include those that are willing to pay to have sex with a child.  Those arrested were charged with Criminal Attempt to Commit Child Molestation.  One (1) adult was identified and arrested on adult prostitution related charges. Additional charges may be forthcoming.

“Operation Southern Hospitality” was a proactive effort centered in Madison, GA.  The operation took several months of planning.  The arrestees range in age from 21 to 56 and come from multiple areas in the state of Georgia from areas around Madison to metro Atlanta.  Some of their occupations included engineer, plumber, and janitor.

The proactive on-line investigation was a coordinated effort amongst law enforcement agencies in Georgia 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. Along with the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Madison Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office of the Middle District of Georgia, and the District Attorney’s Office of the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, eight (8) additional law enforcement entities participated in “Operation Southern Hospitality” as members of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. These agencies were:

Athens-Clarke County Police Department
Georgia State Patrol
Glynn County Sheriff’s Office
Jasper County Sheriff’s Office
Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office
Morgan County Sheriff’s Office
Polk County Sheriff’s Office
Toombs County Sheriff’s Office
Woodstock Police Department
Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC)

The purpose of “Operation Southern Hospitality” 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 on-line and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex.  On-line 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 Morgan County as part of “Operation Southern Hospitality”:

Charles Keown, W/M, from Conyers, GA, 56 years of age, janitor/retail manager
Joshua Zuniga, W/M, from Acworth, GA, 31 years of age, engineer
Phillip Wood, B/M, from Commerce, GA, 43 years of age, electrical lineman
Sheldon Hinson, W/M, from Midland, GA, 21 years of age, production manager
Percy Harris, B/M, from Madison, GA, 37 years of age, plumber
Elizabeth Browner, B/F, from Commerce, GA, 23 years of age, occupation undetermined

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 Information: 
Debbie Garner - debbie.garner@gbi.ga.gov