An online sting operation resulted in the weekend arrests of 10 men charged with attempted enticement of a child to engage in sexual activity, U.S. Attorney John Milhiser and FBI Springfield Special Agent in Charge Sean M. Cox announced Tuesday.
According to documents, each of the men allegedly used social media to contact people they believed to be minors under age 18 with the intent of the meeting them to engage in sexual activity. No children were involved, according to Sharon Paul, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office. The online profiles were created by people who were part of the law enforcement operation, she said. The people charged were arrested at or near locations where they thought they would meet a minor.
The complaints were unsealed Monday. Those charged made initial court appearances before U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Schanzle-Haskins via video teleconference. They were ordered held in area jails pending hearings scheduled for later this week, according to the statement.
If convicted, each defendant faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in prison.
Springfield residents charged include Rafael Mercado Berrios, also known as Jose Berrios, 41, of the 1200 block of North Fourth Street; Zachary Jones, 33, of the 200 block of South Parker Avenue; James Simons Jr., 28, of the 200 block of North Illinois Street; Matthew Faubel, 49, of the 300 block of North Lincoln Avenue; Matthew Wetzel, 35, of the 800 block of West Edwards St.; Stacey Furlow, 59, of the 3700 block of Peoria Road; and James Hammonds, 20, of the 1800 block of Gregory Court.
Also charged were Charles E. Brinkley, 51, of Festus, Mo., but working in Jacksonville; Jason King, 35, of Assumption; and Shondell Hodges, 47, of Chicago.
The investigation was part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative by the Department of Justice to combat sexual exploitation and abuse.
Agencies involved included the FBI with assistance of the Sangamon County Sheriff's office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations; the Springfield Police Department and Illinois State Police. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanner Jacobs and Sangamon County Assistant State's Attorney Brian Shaw are prosecuting the cases.