‘Operation Hidden Guardian’ leads to 21 arrests in Columbus area sting
Seven suspects arrested last year in a Columbus-based online child-sex predator sting called “Operation Hidden Guardian” have been sentenced in federal court.
Twenty-one people initially were charged during the November 2017 operation in which undercover agents posed as underage girls online, flirting with suspects before luring some to a house on Adelaide Drive in Maple Ridge, where those who took the bait were arrested when they arrived.
One man charged in the operation was acquitted Feb. 28 in federal court after his attorney successfully argued his client never believed he was communicating with an underage female, as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent who sent him her photos and spoke with him on the phone was 26, far older than age 14, as she claimed to be.
But a second suspect making a similar argument involving the same agent was convicted. The “Brianna” with whom he was communicating online claimed to be a 14-year-old girl, though she in fact was just a persona used by a male Tallapoosa, Ga., police officer recruited for the sting.
When the suspect arrived on Adelaide Drive, the same 26-year-old GBI agent involved in the other case stepped outside to wave to him, luring him to the door.
That defendant, Derrick Smalls, 39, is to be sentenced May 19.
The ones sentenced this week in federal court pleaded guilty in January to the offense of “use of facilities in interstate and foreign commerce to transmit information about a minor.” Each was sentenced Tuesday to 46 months in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.
Authorities identified the seven as Jonathan David Jenkins, 23; Uthemes Taylor, 30; Michael Andrew Everett, 22; Brian A. Corcoran, 42; and Jarrod R. Long, 27, all of Columbus; Robert Alan Moore, 31, of Ladonia, Ala.; and Collis Dwight Eaton, 48, of Midway, Ala.
Operation Hidden Guardian launched Nov. 9. The investigators posing as children had more than 600 exchanges online, using Internet ads, social media and chat rooms. In more than 400 exchanges, the suspect initiated contact with the fake child and directed the conversation toward sex, investigators said.
The agencies involved included the Columbus Police Department, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, the GBI’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, and the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.