WMBF News Investigates: Tracking sex offenders

By Michael Maely - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - They lurk online looking for sex with disregard for the law and little concern for their victim's age. Think online predators are not looking for children along the Grand Strand? The South Carolina Attorney General's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force has proof they are.

WMBF News has removed some of the words from actual South Carolina chats which led to arrests, but a warning: the tone and nature of them remains graphic.

"Every time I go online, someone solicits me, it only takes a matter of minutes," said Milton Adams, a Myrtle Beach investigator with the task force. "They don't care my age, they just want sex."

Adams has helped arrest more than 20 online predators from across the nation and world. The task force is a team of roughly 35 investigators with nearly 170 arrests since 2004.

Adams spends hours in online chat rooms, but it usually only takes minutes to find people like Mark Kauffman - a Socastee man charged with sexual exploitation of a minor, or 29-year-old Jay Harrison of Lexington.

Harrison thought he was talking to a 14-year-old girl. Task force investigators say he sent them a picture of his genitals 24 minutes into the chat - before he asked again if the person online was a minor.

Defendant (12/19/2006 5:40:41 PM): u live with your parents

Instead of a rendezvous with a minor, Harrison went to jail. So did fellow Lexington man, Leroy York, 38, who thought he was talking to a 13-year-old girl.

Child (11/28/2007 7:46:38 PM): it ok im 13

Eleven minutes later, task force investigators say York sent a picture of his genitals.

Child (11/28/2007 7:58:15 PM): OMG

Adams noted, "It's happening every day, all over the country, to innocent children."

State investigators say William Heath Bishop, 34, of Orangeburg, is in jail after having this conversation with a cop he thought was a 13-year-old girl:

Defendant (10/23/2006 3:38:52 PM): so again y would a 13 y/o gurl want my ---- in her mouth.

Adams has 48 cases pending. One more came in while WMBF News was interviewing him.

"I'm chatting here, this is split screen so I can see if he has a Myspace page or whatever else he has," Adams explained.

Adams says he is solicited after 3 minutes. About 20 minutes later, "He knows he's chatting with a child, he's definitely an adult, he put is age up there and he is still carrying on a conversation."

At 24 minutes into the chat, Adams appears to be a few keystrokes from another arrest: "One of my suspects already is starting to get more of a sexual conversation already," Adams said. "Some of the questions that he's asking, probably really shouldn't be asked to a minor child."

Once they're caught and serve time, what happens when they're released? If investigators don't find a registered sex offender living where they've registered, it means jail time.

"Conviction of a violation of the sex offender registry is at this time a mandatory jail sentence," said Horry County Sgt. Lori Avant.

Horry County investigators keep tabs on nearly 700 registered sex offenders. It gets particularly difficult when offenders don't have a home.

"When you're homeless, you're homeless, and I understand that, and you are in the same location," Avant said to one registered sex offender. "But if you leave this location, you have to let me know that."

One offender agreed to talk with WMBF News. When asked if he feels the system is fair, the man said it was.

"Well, they're doing their job," he said. "They're keeping people safe, from people who are supposed to be convicted of crimes like this."

No children are hurt in Adams' investigations, and your children don't have to be either if you follow Adams' advice:

"I think educating the public, educating the kids, keeping computers in a centralized area of the home is important," Adams explained. "Look for some definite warning signs: if the child starts acting differently, if you see them minimizing screens when you walk into the room, if they're afraid to give you passwords. You should be monitoring what your children are doing online. My kids don't like giving me their passwords, but again, that's the only way that they're going to have a Myspace page - if it's set to private and I have the ability to go on it and look at it."

It's advice that may seem tedious to your teens, but could keep them safe.

"These people want to find a child," Adams said. "That's their whole goal, and they'll travel to do that, whether it's to Myrtle Beach, Charleston or Greenville."

Adams is still communicating with that person he says may have crossed the line; another arrest could be pending on that case.

As far as specific sites to avoid, police say there's really not one chat room predators prefer. They say anywhere children will go, is where they'll go.

Adams and Avant are both Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force members and they're happy to meet with a group to offer more tips on how to track predators and safeguard your computer.

To contact Milton Adams for more information he asks that you email him at Madams@cityofmyrtlebeach.com

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