NORMAN — A multi-agency task force operation that targeted predators seeking sex with underage girls ended with formal charges being filed against five men.
Cleveland County prosecutors allege Brayan Alvarado Vicente, 22; Devin Christian Clanton, 27; and Joshua Paul Ferguson, 38, communicated with someone the defendants thought were 15-year-old girls.
However, the person on the other end of the conversation was an undercover detective from the task force.
The defendants used apps such as MeetMe, PlentyOfFish and Google Voice to make contact with the girls, according to law enforcement affidavits prepared by Cleveland County Sheriff's Detective Matthew Sandburg and Oklahoma City police officer Stephanie Alfred.
The three men were charged in Operation Traveler with making lewd or indecent proposals to a child under 16 and enticing a child under 16 to a secluded place. Both charges are felonies.
Task force members also arrested Luther man Christopher Travis Wells, 27, and Chandramouli Divanapu, 34, of Boca Raton, Fla. Wells was charged in Cleveland County District Court with making lewd proposals to a child under 16 while Divanapu faces a felony charge of enticing a child under 16 into a secluded place.
Task force members represented the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office, Oklahoma City police, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office.
"We've taken a strong stance on protecting those who can't protect themselves, and in this case it's children," said Sandburg, who posed as the 15-year-old girl during the sting operation.
The popular apps used by the defendants are common methods to make contact with the young girls, establish a relationship and convince the teens to meet with the predators at a pre-arranged place. Preventing those meetings are a top priority for law enforcement.
"Once a young person meets up with an adult, it's too late," Sandburg said.
The Oklahoma City metro area sits at the crossroads of the nation with Interstates 40 and 35 passing through the middle of the state, which provides smugglers of drugs, guns and humans with easy routes out of the state, Sandburg noted.
Arresting predators before they have the chance to hurt young people will always remain a concern for Cleveland County law enforcement.
"We have zero tolerance for anyone who looks to exploit children in any way," Sheriff Todd Gibson said. "When it comes to protecting kids it's something Detective Sandburg and I are passionate about. It's one of the highest priorities. We're willing to work with any agency at the local, state or federal level."
Affidavits in each case show the defendants wrote lewd comments to the undercover detectives after being made aware their teen targets were under 16. In the case against Vicente, the defendant told the undercover officer he had never had sex with a virgin and intended to ejaculate on the girl's stomach, the affidavit shows. Two of the three defendants admitted to police they drove to the pre-arranged location to have sex with the teen girls.
Vicente told police all the evidence of his communication with the undercover police was on his cell phone, according to the police affidavit.
All of the defendants were arrested in south Oklahoma City, but within the Cleveland County boundaries. Clanton and Ferguson were taken into custody Jan. 30 and Vicente was arrested on Jan. 31. The pre-arranged meeting places were at a pizza restaurant at 900 SW 104th, SW 89th and Pennsylvania, and SW 104 and Western Avenue.
Clanton and Vicente bonded out of jail while Ferguson remains in the F. Dewayne Beggs Detention Center.
None of the defendants have prior criminal records involving sex-related crimes. Clanton was charged in 2011 with assault and battery, but that case was dismissed at the request of Oklahoma County prosecutors, court records show.
Sandburg and Gibson urged parents to be "nosy" and routinely monitor their children's social media usage.
"With the rise in social media and the different apps that are out there, young people believe someone they've connected with may be their friends but they've never met them," Gibson said. "In the child's mind, that person is their friend and 'they're not going to hurt me.' Predators are in every walk of life."