ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Thirteen accused child predators were arrested during a 2-day online sex sting operation in Abilene.
The Abilene Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety initiated the sting, which involved undercover officers portraying children online.
All thirteen suspects below are accused of communicating with the profiles and making arrangements to meet the personas, despite knowing the personas were underage:
- Joshua Walker, 30 (Sweetwater) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Adrian Vandervlist, 28 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor, Sexual Performance by Child
- Rafael Nanez, 19 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Bryan Collins, 39 (Winters) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Joseph Gulick, 46 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor, Sexual Performance by Child
- Joseph Castleman II, 34 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Jeffrey Akard, 57 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Elias Leyva, 27 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Anthony Moreno, 28 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Michael Walton, 19 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Mark Slattery, 54 (Garland) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Carlito Santos, 46 (Abilene) – Online Solicitation of a Minor
- Raymond Cornman (Abilene) – Prostitution Solicit Person <18, Possession of Controlled Substance
During subsequent interviews, police learned many of these suspects may have actually committed physical child sex crimes and more charges are pending.
Police Chief Stan Standridge said that social media is the main factor behind the increase in arrests and the fact that APD now has a Cyber Crimes Unit dedicated entirely to online sex crimes.
This was the fourth undercover sting that the Cyber Crimes Unit has done since its inception in 2016.
Police did not go in-depth into the sting, as to not give away tactics, but said the stings were done on social media apps.
Anticipating a question as to why there have been so many arrests in Abilene, Standridge said the problem is not necessarily unique to Abilene but is more common because of the ease of social media to exploit children.
“We possess the willingness as a law enforcement community to say ‘not here,'” said Standridge. “We possess the technology to make these type of investigations possible.”
Standridge said they are seeking federal prosecution for the accused offenders as to pursue the strictest possible punishments.
“I know the heart of our District Attorney,” said Standridge. “Our District Attorney Jim Hicks is absolutely committed to prosecuting these criminal offenses so I don’t think you are going to look at anyone getting a slap on a wrist for this. “
Although the alleged offenders were caught in a sting, Standridge pointed out the seriousness of the alleged crimes.
“Let’s keep in mind, if they weren’t met with us, they would have been meeting an underage child for the purpose of sexual performance,” said Standridge.
Protecting our children
Abilene police, along with DPS, will be hosting a meeting to inform parents on how to protect their children from online predators.
“With the advent of social media, it’s become far too easy to exploit our children,” Standridge said.