United States Attorney G.F. Peterman III announced Thursday that a federal grand jury returned indictments, officially charging 20 men with the attempted online enticement of a minor.
This charge carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum term of life in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both, up to a lifetime term of supervised release, and mandatory sex offender registration.
"Operation Hidden Guardian" was a five-day proactive effort centered in Columbus. The arrestees, ranging from age 22 to 55, traveled from areas around Columbus with the intent to meet a child for sex.
Some of the occupations of those arrested included forklift driver, mechanic, car wash attendant, military instructor, electrician, school custodian, research assistant and several were unemployed.
The goal of this operation was to arrest people who communicate with children online and then travel to meet them for the purpose of having sex. The operation also targeted those who are willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor.
The following were arrested and charged in Muscogee County as part of "Operation Hidden Guardian:"
- Austin Pierce, 26, of Columbus - Car wash attendant
- Reginald Crowell, 36, of Pittsview, AL – Unemployed
- Jonathan Jenkins, 23, of Columbus – Treatment Operator
- Brian Cocoran, 42, of Columbus – Unemployed
- Ji Won Kim, 26, of Atlanta – Unemployed
- Derrick Smalls, 38, of Phenix City, AL – Military instructor
- Robert Moore, 31, of Ladonia, AL – Tech Specialist
- Collis Eaton, 48, of Midway, AL – Electrician
- Kenneth Jordan, 29, of Columbus – Research assistant
- Edwin Nieves, 55, of Columbus – Customer Service worker
- Ke Song, 24, of Auburn, AL – Student
- Christopher McGowan, 32, of Mechanicsburg, PA – Industrial Mechanic
- Jarrod Long, 27, of Columbus – City Maintenance Worker
- Jimmy Cobb, 35, of Columbus – Mechanic
- Uthemes Taylor, 30, of Columbus – Forklift Driver
- Michael Everett, 22, of Columbus – Unemployed
- Harold Bates, 35, of Selma, AL – Pipe welder
- Dereck Weldon, 30, of Columbus – Unemployed
- Gary Whitfield, 28, of Columbus – Unemployed
- William Pruitt, 48, of Franklin, NC – School custodian
- Eric Menefee, 50, of Opelika, AL – Unemployed
An indictment is only an allegation of criminal conduct. Each person is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.