82 people arrested in 8 states in child pornography, sexual exploitation case

The investigation focused on people who possessed and distributed child pornography and those who may have been using the internet to prey on minors.

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By Doha Madani

More than 80 people were arrested across eight states after an investigation into the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography distribution, authorities said Friday.

The investigation called Operation Southern Impact III began four months ago and involved more than 170 agencies from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

They focused on tracking down people who possessed and distributed child pornography and those who may have been using the internet to prey on minors. A total of 82 people were arrested.

"The arrestees ranged in age from 20 to 70," the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a news release. "Some of their occupations included non-profit employee, small business owner, store clerk, mechanic, daycare administrator, youth group leader, former high school band director, freelance photographer, construction worker and painter."

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A total of 17 children were either recovered or identified as victims.

"The Commanders of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces in these states wanted to reinforce to those who harm and exploit children that the ICAC Task Forces will tirelessly work together to make an impact in their respective states and the region as a whole," the news release said.

Investigators executed hundreds of search warrants and seized 1,613 digital devices.

Of the 32 adults arrested in Georgia, at least seven traveled for the purpose of meeting and having sex with a minor. Though charges vary between the suspects, they were all arrested based on alleged violations of Georgia's Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007.

Another 11 adults were arrested statewide in Alabama, mainly on charges encompassing possession of child pornography and electronic solicitation of a child, an Alabama State Bureau of Investigation representative told NBC News.

Six people were arrested in South Carolina. Four were charged with varying counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, one with two counts of voyeurism and one on a count of criminal sexual conduct of a minor.

North Carolina authorities arrested six additional people on both state and federal charges, which included sexual exploitation of a minor and possession of child pornography.

Representatives from Florida, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia were not immediately available to provide details.