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Sheriff Greg Seabolt leads a press conference on Aug. 11, 2023, backed by representatives from several of the agencies involved in Operation Child Predator. (Larry Penkava / Randolph Hub)

Operation Child Predator results in 19 arrests; here's how and why it happened

ASHEBORO — A press conference on Aug. 11 by Randolph County Sheriff Greg Seabolt recognized efforts with 19 other agencies that resulted in 19 arrests with 40 felony charges related to sexual exploitation of children. (See the list here.)

Under the code name Operation Child Predator, the action spanned three days although planning started in January, according to Seabolt. “There were a lot of man hours involved. We’re planning for the next investigation. That should be a warning to those contemplating” such crimes with children.

Seabolt added that the current cases continue to be investigated and there may be more charges and additional arrests. He cautioned that those charged must be presumed innocent until found guilty.

In the current cases that Seabolt listed in a Powerpoint presentation on a large screen at the Randolph County Emergency Operations Center on New Century Drive, Asheboro, the perpetrators would travel to a predetermined location, most often in Randolph County, to have sexual relations with a child. Instead, they were met by law enforcement officers and arrested. Most of those charged were from another county and two from out of state but five have Randolph County addresses.

One of those charged is a retired fire chief, another is a lawyer, some are businessmen. Seabolt said, “They definitely need help.”

Joe Barringer, agent in charge of the Greensboro office of Homeland Security, said, “Child exploitation is a major priority, taking offenders off the streets.”

Kevin Routhen of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) told the assembled media, “No single agency can do this on its own. It requires a collaborative effort.

“There’s not a typical offender,” Routhen continued. “You don’t know (who might be a child predator). Parents need to safeguard their kids.”

Seabolt said there are 250 agencies in North Carolina that Randolph County partners with. “Most are under-resourced and under-manned because of the increase in cases,” he said. “As technology advances, it’s very important that parents put safeguards on their computers.

“Most of (those arrested) said this was not the first time. We’re going to continue to do operations, working with Homeland Security and the FBI.”
The Powerpoint listed ways to provide a safer environment for youth. First, parents should have open conversations with their children about what an online predator is. (Find the 10 tips to protect children in the box associated with this story.).

“The main thing is to communicate with the child,” Seabolt said. “It’s important that parents do their job.

“The internet is a great tool, but it can be used (to find children),” he said. 

Asked why the operation was centered in rural Randolph County, Seabolt replied, “Why not Randolph County? It happens everywhere. We’re in the center of the state with major highways criss-crossing us. It’s happening here and we’ve got to open our eyes.”

Seabolt noted that some of those charged were people in respected positions. “What concerns me is that so many are leading figures in the community. We need to get them help. We’re not going to ignore them but bring them to justice.

“We’re planning for another (operation),” Seabolt said. “We’re looking at developing a human trafficking task force with other state and national agencies.”

Lastly, Seabolt spoke to parents: “I encourage parents to educate themselves on internet websites. Parents should explain to their children that there are mean people out there to hurt them.”