82 people arrested in multistate child exploitation sting, investigators say

A months-long child exploitation operation netted 82 arrests across eight southeastern states, including 31 people in Georgia, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced Friday.

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A total of 17 children were also rescued or identified as victims during the four-month sting, which involved 171 law enforcement agencies in metro Atlanta, other parts of Georgia, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Southern Impact III," targeted those who possess and distribute child pornography as well as those accused of exploiting children on the internet, a GBI spokeswoman said.

The people arrested ranged in age from 20 to 70, and included a day care administrator, a youth group leader, a firefighter, a former high school band director and a military veteran, the GBI said.

The sting included search warrant executions, undercover operations, arrests and sex offender compliance visits. Police executed 134 search warrants, spoke to 215 registered sex offenders and seized more than 1,600 electronic devices, the GBI said.

The suspects were targeted based on cyber tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as well as online undercover investigations conducted by local law enforcement agencies.

The majority of the arrests in Georgia involved the possession or distribution of child porn, including material containing the violent sexual abuse of infants and toddlers, the GBI said.

Of the dozens arrested in Georgia, seven were apprehended after allegedly traveling to meet and have sex with minors.

“A goal of the operation was to arrest persons who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex,” the GBI said in a news release announcing the arrests.

Four of the people arrested in Georgia were already registered sex offenders, including one person who was charged in 2015 after a similar GBI operation.

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