UPDATE: At a Monday news conference, authorities increased the number of arrests to 16.
Our original report follows:
NORTHEAST WISCONSIN - We've all heard how easy it is for adults to entice children on the Internet.
FOX 11 got a firsthand look at how simple it really is during an unprecedented, four-day police sting.
Officers in Northeast and central Wisconsin arrested 15 people in six different counties during the Internet Crimes Against Children operation.
FOX 11's Laura Smith was given exclusive access to the undercover operation.
Door, Brown, Outagamie and Marathon counties took part in the sting aimed at cracking down on potential child sex predators.
The Brown and Door County sheriff's departments allowed us exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the operation.
We were there as investigators showed us how easy it is to find people who want to meet up and have sex with minors.
"I guess each one is different, and I don't think you really know what to expect," said Door County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Stenzel.
Operation Black Veil II began around 9:00 Wednesday morning in a back room at the Door County Sheriff's Department.
"A lot of people looking for sexual pleasures, wide range of what people are looking for. Incredible," said Sturgeon Bay Police Sergeant Greg Zager.
Investigators from a number of local agencies go online to Craigslist, posing as either a 15-year-old boy or girl.
It's the first sting they are doing that will include the weekend, a time when they believe perhaps more potential offenders will be online.
The chatters not only post ads looking to attract predators, but also respond to ads posted by those who want to engage in explicit acts with children.
"I responded to an ad from him and he thinks he's talking to a 15-year-old girl, and he wants her to do some sexual acts to him," said Stenzel.
Our first day starts rather slowly. One officer responds to a post from a person looking for sex. He gets a reply back within 10 minutes. He continues to monitor posts and respond to them.
"He didn't say no yet. He just says he doesn't want any trouble," Stenzel said about a response he received.
You would think at 9 a.m., most people would be at work. But the investigators' email inboxes eventually begin to fill up with messages from people desiring to meet up with someone who they think is a child.
"With technology, it really is making it easier for these predators to lure in these younger people and use them for whatever needs they want," said Door County Sheriff Terry Vogel.
The graphic language and images we see in the posts, and exchanged by email, as the operation gets underway, are disturbing not only for us, but for some working the operation.
"He sent a picture," said an investigator. "Which one is this now?" asked another. "It's Brian," he replied. "Oh, the bisexual one."
The chats in some cases lead to text and even phone conversations.
"I'm not available until noon because that's when mom goes to work," said Stenzel as he typed the words into a cell phone.
By day two of the operation more than 200 contacts are made. That means someone has shown interest in having sex with a child even if it happens or not.
"I asked him what he's interested in and he said sex or whatever you want to do," said Zager.
Investigators working in two shifts work long hours in this back room during the sting. On most days, from 8 a.m. until midnight and even later, they're in front of these computer screens trying to catch potential child predators.
"Did you establish sex in there? The reason for the pickup is you're going to have sex. He knows you're 15," Door County Sheriff's Investigator Chris Neuville asked Stenzel. Stenzel nodded. "You established 15," Neuville said. Again, Stenzel nodded.
Meanwhile, other investigators are posting ads on Craigslist.
One post reads "I am taking care of my younger brother while our grama is gone. Need to get him experience to be a man. Hit me up if you are clean and discreet." The responses come quickly.
"I'll ask him for a picture in return. I still got three more replies here," said Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officer Aaron Dufek.
Before the ad is flagged and taken down by Craigslist, investigators receive 12 replies in 25 minutes.
"One of my replies that I said how old he was, he replied no jailbait, sorry. So obviously he's not happy with the 15-year-old. But, however, I've had a bunch of them that they say that, I'll reply to them, and all of a sudden the conversation starts to continue," Dufek explained.
Not everyone is willing to meet up with a 15-year-old. But just in case, takedown teams are on standby to assist with arrests should a meeting take place.
We were allowed to ride along with Brown County Sheriff's Department investigators as they met up with and took their first suspect into custody Wednesday night.
"Well it sounds like we're en route to pick up a 28-year-old male party. He's making arrangements to meet with, it sounds like, two 15-year-old boys. And he's willing to bring some marijuana along with him for some sexual favors," said Brown County Sheriff's Captain Jeff Sanborn.
Investigators say 28-year-old Albert Ruleford of Howard agreed to meet the boys at a gas station on Velp Avenue in Howard. However, once officers get into position, those plans quickly change. They soon find, through communicating by cell phone with the suspect, he wants the boys to come to him.
"The circumstance there is we knew the person was on foot, so our surveillance teams were watching, making sure it was somebody on foot, the direction he was coming from was up Memorial Drive, we try to get a clothing description if we possibly can from the person," said Sanborn.
Investigators did get a clothing description, and the suspect's decision not to meet at the set-up location didn't deter officers who surrounded him and took him into custody just a couple blocks away from the station. Ruleford did not resist the arrest. We asked how officers knew they had the right person.
"He started floating around that area, didn't go to our meet location, kept him on the phone, our surveillance team observed him on his phone texting, first thing we did when we made contact with him was had our person that's chatting with him call that phone. As soon as that phone rings, we know we have our person," explained Sanborn.
Friday, Ruleford appeared in court by teleconference on recommended charges of Child Enticement, Use of a Computer to Facilitate a Child Sex Crime, Indecent Exposure to a Minor and Drug Possession. He was not formally charged, but the prosecutor read what he claimed to be Ruleford's confession to police. In it, Ruleford told police he was walking to meet up with two 15-year-old boys he had been communicating with on the computer and by text throughout the day.
"My intention was to engage in sexual activity with the two 15-year-old boys, if that was what they were still interested in doing," read Brown County Assistant District Attorney Tom Coaty.
Throughout the sting, we see meetings happen in broad daylight and at night in locations including crowded parking lots.
Thursday, we were there when authorities arrested 34-year-old Victor Iakimenko of Green Bay. They took him into custody at a Bellevue gas station. Court documents show officers who were in contact with Iakimenko say he thought he was meeting a 15-year-old girl. The agreement was she would perform a sexual act on him for 25 dollars.
Brown County prosecutors charged Iakimenko in court Friday with Use of a Computer to Facilitate a Sex Crime.
Law enforcement officials say the goal is to let the public know about the prevalence of Internet Crimes Against Children. That's why authorities wanted FOX 11 involved in this latest operation.
"We need to educate the community that this is out there, that there are predators out there looking for our children. I'm just hoping it's an educational aspect for them and I'm hoping to get the bad guys off the street," said Vogel.
Operation Black Veil II ran Wednesday through Saturday. These investigators decided to work the sting into a weekend to see if activity increases on days when people have more free time.
"People are not working, children are out of school, so the potential for these individuals to get online to chat, they feel more comfortable because they know that maybe a 15-year-old girl will typically be in school on a weekday, but on a weekend they're free and they can move about and meet an individual like this," said Brown County Sheriff's Captain Dave Konrath.
We were right there with them as both the investigators working the chats and the arrest teams in Brown County continued the sting into Friday and Saturday.
Friday, officers made several arrests, including this bust we witnessed just before 5 p.m. at a Green Bay area bowling alley. Authorities say a 26-year-old man was expecting to meet a 15-year-old boy for a sexual act.
As the evening wore on, we saw the chats becoming more frequent in Door County.
"This is one of our busiest nights. But we kind of expected it because it was Friday. So we figured once with the weekend going on," said Sturgeon Bay Police Sergeant Carl Waterstreet.
Saturday was even more hectic, but investigators tell us it was a worthwhile move to work this operation through the weekend.
"We saw an increase in traffic, I wouldn't say it was a great percentage because it was a large amount of traffic throughout the week and the weekend, but there was an increase in responses and interest," said Door County Sheriff's Investigator Jim Valley.
Law enforcement officers say the problem of Internet crimes against children isn't going away. And neither are they.
"They'll going to continue to do this whether we're out there or not. But we want to make sure that our society here, or our community here in Green Bay, is safe and we're taking the measures to ensure the safety of both our community and our children," Konrath said.
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