A North Carolina operation spearheaded by a Boone Police Department detective has led to the rescue of eight children from sexual abuse and at least 23 child exploitation arrests, according to documents filed in the case.
Dustin Davis Haynes, 34, of Lexington, North Carolina, pleaded guilty on March 2 to one count of transportation of child pornography and was sentenced to five and a half years in prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.
Haynes was the first of more than 20 suspects arrested after a detective gained access to a private group chat dedicated to child exploitation and the trafficking of child pornography.
The detective pretended to be a 14-year-old girl in order to identify group members and send their information throughout the U.S.
Over the span of a few months, the State Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Boone Police Department tricked the suspects into providing personal identifying information.
The joint effort led to the arrest of 23 sexual offenders and the rescue of eight children from sexually abusive situations.
Authorities arrested one man who had been sexually abusing his 14-year-old daughter for 10 years. Another person was arrested on an oil rig in the North Sea, securing the freedom of his five-year-old daughter.
U.S. Attorney Matt Martin praised the joint effort for "answering the call" to protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
"Protecting children is a high calling. The excellent proactive work of the investigators in this case has undoubtedly changed victims' lives for the better and safeguarded others. I am proud that an investigation that began here in North Carolina has resulted in such a positive impact across the country, and even abroad," Marion said. "This case is an example of the effective local, state, and federal law enforcement partnerships required to fully combat online child sexual exploitation. The investigators in this case deserve our deep gratitude."