31 Charged In Northeast Ohio Child Sex Crimes Sting Operation

Local law enforcement authorities on Wednesday announced 31 people from five counties in Northeast Ohio were arrested on felony charges over the weekend for alleged sexual crimes against children as part of law enforcement initiative dubbed "Operation Deja Vu."

The operation involved law enforcement officers posing as minors and engaging in sexually explicit conversations initiated by suspects online. Those arrested allegedly not only engaged in those conversations, they made arrangements with the undercover officers to meet at a physical location in Cuyahoga County.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley said many of the conversations began on popular social media platforms.

"It is critical that you monitor the activities of your children online because there are predators out there every day seeking to exploit and abuse them," O'Malley said.

Those arrested were between the ages of 20 and 80. Charges range from third to fifth degree felonies. Four suspects had guns confiscated during the arrests. 

"We are only focusing our efforts on those individuals who not only reach out to us and initiate, but who also then suggest what they're interested in doing with these children," said Internet Crimes Against Children Commander David Frattare said, pushing back against any notion of entrapment. "We do not escalate the conversations, we do not initiate anything that has to do with the criminal aspects."

Authorities at the press conference said they could run similar operations every day and catch suspects.

"In the last four years, we've had 108 arrestees in this operation, in these types of operations, which is frightening," O'Malley said.

But they also noted there has been a marked increase in child pornography and online attempts to coerce children into sexual acts during the pandemic.

"We saw a 40 percent increase in cyber tips from the national center pretty much on cue with the pandemic last year," Frattare said. "You have a pandemic, you also have a lot of children going to school at home, you have offenders, adults who are now working from home. Perfect storm in essence and those numbers have continued to increase."

There is both a generational and technology gap for parents and children, Frattare noted, saying that often parents don't realize how advanced their child's phone is compared to their own.

"The reality is with what we see and the apps that these offenders are using, they're the same apps that children are using and a lot of parents don't understand that," he said. "They also don't understand how powerful these devices can be."

Newburgh Heights Police Chief John Majoy said more than 50 local law enforcement officers were involved in the sting. 

"I can say this the highest degree of confidence: Today, the world is a safer place because of what came from this operation over this past weekend," Majoy said.

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