A Gainesville man was arrested Tuesday on a charge of enticing a child for indecent purposes, following a Hall County Sheriff’s Office undercover operation.
John Hartwell Smith Jr., 48, arranged via an advertisement on Craigslist to meet with what he believed would be an underage girl “for the purpose of having a sexual relationship,” according to a news release from the sheriff’s office.
Smith’s occupation was listed in court records as president of the Hart Smith Co., an insurance agency on Green Street. A message left at Smith’s office was not returned.
He was booked into the Hall County Jail and is now free on $15,000 bond. A committal hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.
The arrest follows on the heels of a 20-year-old Clarkesville man being charged on Sept. 6 in an “almost identical” operation, sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said.
Brandon Michael Keller made arrangements to meet what he thought would be a 15-year-old girl for the purpose of having sex, the sheriff’s office said. Keller is also scheduled for a committal hearing on Oct. 21.
Wilbanks explained that at no point in the investigations is an actual underage person at risk.
“It’s a persona that’s created by investigators,” he said.
The string of arrests isn’t indicative of new policy or priorities, Wilbanks said, but rather a desire to deter possible predators.
“It’s a periodic thing that our investigators have engaged in. We haven’t always publicized it as well, but we want to publicize it now and put these predators on notice that Gainesville and Hall County is not the place to do this sort of thing,” Wilbanks said.
Investigators don’t create an online profile, waiting to bait a possible predator, Wilbanks said.
“I think that is a common misperception. And it’s not a situation where the investigators create the scenario,” he said. “These investigators are responding to ads that these individuals have already placed online, and the investigators make it clear from the outset that the person that the perpetrator is communicating with is presumably an underage person — there’s no ambiguity about that whatsoever.”