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5 arrested in internet child sex sting

Five men were arrested in Hall County as part of a multi-agency operation targeting people seeking children online for sex, according to authorities.

“Operation Rattlesnake” started Thursday and involved almost 300 exchanges between investigators and the targets.

“More than 60 of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact with whom they believed to be a minor and directed the conversation towards sex,” according to a news release on the operation.

More than a dozen subjects were talking with multiple investigators believed to be minors.

“Such activity confirms what investigators uncover conducting these types of investigations: that many predators specifically seek out minors on such websites to groom them as potential victims for sexual contact,” according to the news release.

Five men are accused of traveling to meet the person they believed to be a minor, and they were arrested. They include James Charles Herndon, 58, of Flowery Branch; Melo Hairapetian, 28, of Morris, Illinois; Baribefe Monkpe, 23, of Lawrenceville; Anthony Wayne Jordan, 37, of Newnan; Drake Rowin Cook, 23, of Athens.

The Hall County Jail lists their charges as obscene internet contact with a child and electronic enticement of a minor.

The Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad, Gainesville Police, the Hall County Solicitor’s Office and Oakwood Police were involved in the operation. They were aided by the sheriff’s offices of Forsyth, Coweta and Richmond counties, as well as police departments from Brookhaven, LaGrange and Roswell.

“This operation is a prime example of interagency planning and cooperation. I am proud that we were able to host the task force at our facility to carry it out. Moreover, I hope that these arrests send a loud and clear message: the exploitation of children will not be tolerated in Hall County,” Sheriff Gerald Couch said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the (Internet Crimes Against Children) task force whenever needed to stop these predators. Hall County is a great community, and we will work relentlessly to ensure that it remains a safe place for our children.”

Gainesville Police Chief Carol Martin encouraged parents to learn about these issues involving the internet and have conversations with their children.

“As officers, we are tasked with protecting and serving our community in all aspects. We must protect our most precious and valuable assets: children. Safety of our youth is always and will always be our top priority,” Martin said in a statement. “We are thankful for the partnership of the GBI and other local agencies. Partnerships such as these are important. They send a clear and viable message to individuals committing these heinous crimes.”

Debbie Garner, the GBI special agent in charge of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said the Hall County Sheriff’s Office is one of the most active member agencies.

“We appreciate their daily efforts to combat child exploitation,” she said. “This type of cooperation and collaboration is invaluable in the effort to keep our children safe from predators who seek to harm them. This successful operation was a partnership between all the agencies involved. We will continue to aggressively work together to protect our children.”