KING COUNTY, Wash. - King County deputies arrested nine people suspected of inappropriately communicating with minors as young as 14 years old, planning to pay money to have sex with them.
Undercover detectives conducted the arrests during a sting operation at a hotel in SeaTac.
"These are the most vulnerable people in our community, our adolescent and youth. And there are those who want to go out there and prey on them, they want to try to exploit them sexually. Our job is to interrupt that and make sure that the Puget Sound area, and King County specifically, is not a place where that’s going to occur," said Cpt. Tim Meyer with the sheriff’s office.
Monday was the first appearance in court for all nine suspects. King County prosecutors argued for their bail to be between $75,000 and $100,000. A judge found probable cause in each case and set bail between $5,000 and $15,000.
Each suspect faces charges of Communication with a Minor for Immoral Purposes and Commercial Sex Abuse of a Minor.
Court documents showed the suspects live in different parts of western Washington, with one from as far away as Iowa. The documents state the suspects used online messaging tools like MeetMe, Grindr and Craigslist to communicate with who they thought were young teenage girls, "played" by undercover detectives.
In one case, the documents said a man "eventually agreed to meet the 14-year-old child at her hotel room and agreed to bring alcohol, marijuana and $5 for vaginal sex." The documents also said after his arrest, the man admitted to investigators that he "just recently applied for a job as a middle school tennis coach."
"We recognize that, although we had some great success with the phenomenal work by our members last weekend, we understand that market doesn’t go away. There are always going to be those that exploit the most vulnerable," said Meyer. "We need to interrupt that."
Without revealing too much of the investigation, Meyer said detectives with the Criminal Investigation Division have been following online trends and patterns. This ultimately led them to set up the sting operation in SeaTac. The CID conducts these targeted operations several times per year throughout King County.
"We’re going to use information intelligence to drive our decisions, where to put the enforcement action. And in this case, [SeaTac] just happened to be the area of King County where they felt an emphasis was appropriate," said Meyer.
Nowadays, there is easy access to so many messaging tools, including some lesser-known websites and apps like Discord, Skout and Whisper. The sheriff’s office urges parents and guardians to be vigilant of their child’s online activity, and transparent about the risks involved.
"We’ve moved far beyond just traditional Facebook. From digital apps, phone apps—whatever it is—messaging apps, be sure that you’re out there, you’re engaged, know what your kids are doing, know what’s on their phones," said Meyer. "Be vigilant. Understand what your kids are doing online. There are so many different apps. Be transparent, have open frequent conversation about online security."