HOUSTON – The Houston-Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has arrested 126 people in its two-month long investigation into online child predators, the Houston Police Department announced at a press conference Friday morning.
Operation Broken Heart III was a joint-effort that took place in April and May of this year between more than 30 law enforcement agencies on the international, federal, state and local levels.
“The operation targeted predators that were sexually exploiting children on the internet,” Sgt. Richard Han said.
“We conducted several undercover chat sting operations and we targeted people who were actively trading child pornography image and video files.”
Through the operation, Houston-Metro ICAC conducted over 600 investigations, executed 111 search warrants, issued 250 subpoenas and court orders, and conducted 19 community outreach safety presentations with over 1,000 attendees, Han said.
The goal was to arrest online child predators and raise awareness of internet safety through community outreach programs, Houston officials said.
District Attorney Devon Anderson with the Harris County said officers posed as children online to catch offenders.
“When officers pose as children online, they don’t have to arrange those meetings,” Anderson said. “They don’t have to bring up sex. The predators are the ones who inevitably take it to the next level because that’s their whole point of doing this.”
And the predators come from a variety of backgrounds, Anderson said.
“The 23 cases out of Harris County were people like a pizza delivery man, a guy who owns a kickboxing gym, there was a security guard, there was a guy who has been charged with this before: online solicitation of a minor,” Anderson said.
Chatrooms and gaming systems are how these predators target children, special agent Richard Howardson with Homeland Security Investigations in Houston said. He urged parents to check what their children are doing online and on their phones.
“This is real. In case you don’t think this is real, we arrested and charged a 22-year-old man with continuous sexual abuse of a man for allegedly abusing two sisters who are 12-year-old twins,” Anderson said.
One of the twins met the man online and they started chatting in September, Anderson said.
“They talked for nearly a month before he was able to arrange a first meeting at their home where they let him in through the bedroom window. And that relationship with both girls continued on for some time before it was discovered,” Anderson said.