FBI Undercover Operation Leads To Federal Charges For 14 People Attempting To Meet Minors For Sex

Fairview Heights – U.S. Attorney Steven D. Weinhoeft and FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean M. Cox announced today that 14 people have been federally charged for attempting to engage in sexual activity with minors. The cases are the result of an FBI led operation involving multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies that targeted online predators attempting to meet minors for sex. Over 50 law enforcement agents were involved in the operation.

U.S. Attorney Steven Weinhoeft said, “Instead of lurking on playgrounds, modern predators hide behind electronic devices using social media and texting apps to access young children.” Weinhoeft continued, “Serious dangers are no further away than a child’s cell phone or tablet, and we strongly urge parents to monitor their children’s online activity, be aware of who their children are talking with, and have conversations about how to stay safe online.”

SAC Cox echoed those remarks: “Over this past weekend, FBI Agents from Springfield and St. Louis partnered with law enforcement to conduct an operation to identify child predators. These are some of the most difficult, and yet the most important, investigations we work with our partners to make a positive impact in our communities and protect our children. In today’s world, children have a much larger presence on social media platforms than they had in the past, which places them at far greater risk of becoming a victim to online sexual predators. These arrests should serve as a reminder to parents everywhere of the importance of monitoring the computer usage of their children and staying active in their lives.”

During the two-day operation, undercover agents pretended to be minors in a variety of online texting, social media and message board platforms and apps. All of the defendants contacted these profiles online, engaged in sexually explicit discussions with the undercover agents and arrived at a residence with the intent to engage in sexual acts with minors. Some of the defendants also propositioned the undercover agents to send them pornographic photos, traveled across state lines for the purpose of illicit sexual activity with a minor, and/or offered to pay money to engage in sexual activity with a minor. All of the defendants were arrested after arriving at the undercover residence. Several defendants arrived with items intended for the fictitious minors, including alcohol, sex toys, lubricant, condoms, methamphetamine, and in one case, a dog leash and a dog collar with the name of the undercover profile engraved on it. No actual minors were harmed.

All of the defendants were charged by criminal complaint between June 28-29, 2020. U.S. Attorney Weinhoeft said, “Sex trafficking and child exploitation continue to impact our communities, and we will aggressively enforce the law against those who would prey upon children.”
The identities of the 14 people who were charged in the East St. Louis Division of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, as well as their charges, are set out in the table below:

Brett Brimberry, 28, Glen Carbon, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Richard L. Britt, 38, Granite City, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor; Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct
Urich Gaines, 32, Belleville, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Kayln E. Hogatt,  27, Bridgeport, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor; Attempted Production of Child Pornography
Kevin Kamler, 30, O’Fallon, MO – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Brian Lotz, 56,  Collinsville, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Anthony Parrish, 33, Swansea, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Philip M. Reis, 55, O’Fallon, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Gerald S. Sewell, 56, Belleville, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor; Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct
James R. Sears,  35, Bridgeport, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Travis Shubert, 29, Granite City, IL – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Preston Thomas, 57, St. Louis, MO – Attempted Enticement of a Minor
Nicholas Wright, 35, O’Fallon, MO – Attempted Enticement of a Minor; Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct; Attempted Sex Trafficking of a Child
Vallie F. Zeller, 43,  St. Louis, MO – Attempted Enticement of a Minor; Interstate Travel to Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct; Attempted Production of Child Pornography

Between June 29-July 1, 2020, all 14 defendants will have an initial appearance in front of United States Magistrate Judges Mark Beatty or Gilbert Sison at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis. Each of the offenses is alleged to have occurred in Madison County, Illinois. If convicted, the defendants each face a minimum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and could receive as much as life behind bars. The offenses also carry a possible lifetime term of supervised release and fines of up to $250,000.

Pending trial, all 14 defendants will be held without bond or released on electronic monitoring and other strict conditions mandated by the Adam Walsh Act.

A complaint is merely a charge against a defendant. Under the law, a defendant is presumed to be innocent of the charge until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of a jury.

These cases fall under the umbrella of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by the United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who sexually exploit children, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc. For more information about internet safety education, please visit www.usdoj.gov/psc and click on the tab “resources.”

The investigation was led by the FBI-Springfield Division, with the assistance of the FBI- St. Louis Division, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Belleville Police Department, the Collinsville Police Department, the Edwardsville Police Department, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, the Illinois State Police, the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Police Department, the St. Louis County Police Department, the Swansea Police Department, and the United States Secret Service. Additional assistance was provided by the United States Marshals Service, the Alton Jail, the Monroe County Jail, and the St. Clair County Jail. The 14 defendants’ cases will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Chris Hoell, Ali Burns, Karelia Rajagopal, and Laura Reppert.

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