One alleged online sexual predator case from last year’s Columbus sting called “Operation Hidden Guardian” has been postponed and another has ended in a guilty plea to reduced charges in U.S. District Court.
The operation involving multiple agencies in November 2017 netted 21 arrests resulting from undercover agents’ pretending to be minors on social media posts seeking male company.
Columbus attorney Mark Shelnutt had two clients facing trial this week in federal court. One was Harold Bates of Selma, Ala., and the other was Jimmy Cobb of Columbus. Both were charged with attempted Internet enticement of a minor, Shelnutt said.
He said Bates’ case has been postponed until September, and the suspect has been released on $10,000 bond.
Cobb pleaded guilty Monday to “use of facilities in interstate and foreign commerce to transmit information about a minor,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
His sentencing has been set for May 22.
In the cases that have gone to trial so far, one suspect has been acquitted and another found guilty.
A jury Friday found Derrick Smalls guilty of attempted Internet enticement of a minor, for which the penalty ranges from 10 years to life. Court testimony showed Smalls responded to a Craigslist posting with a logo that said, “Yes, I am a princess.”
The undercover officer exchanging texts with Smalls claimed to be a 14-year-old named “Brianna” who lured Smalls to a home agents had rented on Adelaide Drive, where they arrested him.
The suspect acquitted last week was Ji Won Kim of Auburn, Ala., whose attorney argued his client believed he was dealing with an adult when he responded to a Backpage.com ad picturing a 26-year-old Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent, who talked to him on the telephone.
Shelnutt said Bates’ case is similar to Kim’s, in that he also responded to the Backpage ad and talked to the 26-year-old agent on the phone, and didn’t buy her claim that she was a juvenile.
“He didn’t believe she was 14 years old,” the attorney said.