|Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson announced Friday that sting operations in the county had found 17 people allegedly seeking to assault minors, and rescued 7 children. (Jake May | MLive.com)
GENESEE COUNTY, MI – A law enforcement operation targeting child traffickers led to the arrest of 17 people, county sheriff Chris Swanson announced at a press conference on Friday evening.
At 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14, Swanson also said that a rescue operation earlier that day had located seven children who had gotten “lost in the cracks.”
Over the course of five months, Swanson said that a team in his department known as GHOST - the Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team - had set up six stings, during which law enforcement agents posed as 13, 14, and 15-year-old children on social media sites.
People who then arrived at locations expecting to be able to assault those children were instead arrested, and will be prosecuted, Swanson said. He did not say where they are currently being held, if arraignments have already taken place, or what the charges are likely to be.
The people arrested came from across the county, including Grand Blanc, Davison, Flint Township and Fenton, Swanson said, as well as from outside the county. One was a former police officer and firefighter from Burton, he said.
That person has been charged with two 20-year felonies and a four-year felony, Swanson added.
The rescue operation on Friday included a search for 27 children known to have “gone off the grid,” Swanson said, per information from schools, hospitals, probate courts, and human service agencies, including child welfare and the foster care system.
Seven four-person teams, composed of police officers and social workers, conducted the search from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, according to Swanson, which turned up seven of those children, aged 17 and under.
One 16-year-old girl was found locked in a barn in Montrose, Swanson said.
“The fear in her eyes was real,” he added.
It was the county’s third such rescue operation, Swanson said. The GHOST Team also conducted rescue sweeps in 2018 and 2019, he said.
The GHOST work was a partnership between many township and city police departments, as well as state police, the FBI, and a training group composed of ex-Navy SEALs, one of whom spoke on Friday.
Over the course of the sting operations, Swanson said that law enforcement made contact with 2,000 people who were seeking “sexual relations with vulnerable kids.”
“The ones that actually come (to meet the child), those are ones that are going to really harm,” he said.
The names and professions of some of the people rounded up during the first two sting operations, in March and April, will be announced next week, Swanson said.
“These are people from all walks of life,” he added.
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