Correction: This story misstated the number of federal charges filed related to the operation. A headline misstated the type of charges. The story and headline have been corrected.
More than a dozen Oklahomans have been charged after a lengthy investigation related to child sex crimes that involved multiple agencies.
The effort, dubbed “Operation Independence Day,” prioritized locating missing minors believed to be at risk of sexual exploitation. The effort led to nine defendants being indicted in federal court related to the operation.
U.S. Attorney Trent Shores said during a news conference that four minors identified by state and local authorities were victims of enticement and sexual abuse.
Most of the nine defendants were indicted on allegations they attempted coercion or enticement of a minor. Three others were levied charges on various child pornography charges. Most of the defendants, said Shores, allegedly contacted their victims through social media.
“I think these cases are an important reminder of the ease with which child predators have access to our children, have access to our families,” Shores said. “Virtually any social media application, any website, any community gaming forum that your children may participate in could make them vulnerable, could give a child predator access.
“I don’t say this to strike fear, but I say this to ensure parents and children have that open line of communication.”
One defendant was indicted after it was discovered he allegedly had sex with a 14-year-old girl, according to court documents.
Indictment information was unavailable Wednesday morning for two others charged as a result of the operation.
Assistant District Attorney Erik Grayless revealed that the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office charged 10 individuals with 25 separate counts, including facilitating sexual contact with a minor, lewd proposals to a minor and child pornography charges.
“Criminal elements of Tulsa County should take a message, the feds and the state are working together in order to make our children safe from these type of offenses,” Grayless said.
The local efforts — which involved the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office along with Tulsa, Broken Arrow and Bixby police departments — were part of an ongoing national operation dating back to 2003.
Nationwide, the efforts resulted in the recovery of 82 minor victims, the identification of 21 others and the arrests of 67 suspected traffickers, according to the FBI.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a prepared statement that the two primary goals of the efforts were saving minors and prosecuting sex traffickers.
“Child sex trafficking is a heinous crime that preys on the most vulnerable in our society,” Barr said. “Perpetrators victimize children in communities throughout the country, and we are determined to find and rescue them.”
The FBI-led task forces leveraged resources and intelligence from its federal, state, local and tribal partners. In 2003, federal officials launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative to address “the growing problem of domestic sex trafficking of children,” according to an FBI release. Through that work, more than 6,600 child victims have either been identified or recovered. The initiative has also resulted in more than 2,700 convictions, authorities said.
Lorene Bible on the newly resumed search for her daughter Lauria Bible