MADISON — A Clarksville man is one of 13 people recently charged in a sting operation by the Madison Police Department to catch child predators.
Jonathan Cruz Smith, 35, is charged with a level 4 felony for child solicitation, a level 4 felony for attempted misconduct with a minor and an enhancement for being a habitual offender after police say he communicated with an undercover officer online and made arrangements to meet for sex.
Others charged in the investigation, which started in mid August and netted an average of about one arrest a day, include Travis L. Case, 27, Dillon M. Stewart, 24, and Ray D. Bell of Madison; Michael R. Spradling, 30, Matthew S. Sonnors, 47, and Dennis L. Mothersbaugh, 40, of North Vernon; Bryton E. Wise, 26, of Lexington; Christopher J. Warren, 44, of Milton; John P. Bartlett, 30, of Bloomington; Adam C. Gaskins of Aurora; Ryan J. Perdue, 37, of Scottsburg and George E. Grosse, 63, of Hamilton, Michigan.
All face the same charges as Cruz-Smith except Bell, who’s charged with a level 6 felony for possession of child pornography. Stewart, Bartlett, Gaskins, Mothersbaugh and Grosse also face additional felonies.
Investigators say the men — between ages 24 and 63 — had each made contact with a detective believing it to be a 14-year-old girl and made plans to travel anywhere from a few miles to 300 to meet in person.
It was initiated by the Madison Police Department’s Crime Suppression Team in mid-August, Chief John Wallace said at a news conference this week, and made possible through city funds recently allocated expanding law enforcement resources
“This predator net operation exceeded 300 hours of investigation,” Wallace said. “This online investigation is a proactive approach that likely saved countless children from becoming victims of sexual predators.
“Many were from outside the city. Many traveled hours to meet what they thought was a minor child. Deeply disturbing was some of the items seized from these perpetrators. including alcohol, methamphetamine, firearms and restraints.”
Jefferson County Prosecutor David Sutter said while it’s hard to speculate what more intent any suspects may have had, “Based on some of the evidence recovered from some of the individuals...it certainly could have been possible that something more nefarious could have happened,” he said.
Sutter added that he doesn’t want the community to be terrified of a bust like this but to use it to be more vigilant.
“You want to use it as an educational opportunity for parents, guardians, teachers to teach kids...there could be someone as far as five and a half hours away willing to drive to meet up and have sex with a girl here in our community that they just communicated online with in the past couple of days,” Sutter said.
“You have to be vigilant in monitoring and making sure you’re having those educational conversations with kids so that they know what they’re doing when they’re on the internet or social media.”