ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4 News) — It’s the work that local law enforcement agencies believe is one of the most important things they can do: protecting children, the most vulnerable, in their communities. Authorities in southwestern Utah have arrested a dozen suspects on suspicion of child trafficking and sexual exploitation charges as a result of an aggressive sting operation set in motion at the beginning of the week.
The investigation began late Monday night when police were alerted by multiple individuals to the Craiglist ad, which implied those interested in spending time with children should respond via email. While Chief Blair Barfuss and Sgt. Ron Bridge with Dixie State University police lead the investigation, agents with the St. George Police Department and the FBI and Homeland Security also assisted.
“Here at Dixie State University, we don’t have the manpower or resources to thoroughly address this kind of investigation, so we had multiple task force members arrive from around the state,” Barfuss said. “While investigating the ad, we also did proactive work on social media apps and other avenues to look into whether there’s a significant problem in the St. George area for individuals wanting to meet up with children for sex.”
Barfuss said the individual posting the ad was not one of the 12 people arrested because the statements were vague and unable to lead to a criminal charge. There were approximately 10 calls into police dispatch expressing concern about the ad, but more than 135 people responded to the email expressing interest in the services described, according to Barfuss.
Police say the arrests were not confined to race or socioeconomic status. The vast majority of those arrested were from the St. George area, and the suspects’ ages range from 19 to more than 70 years old. Authorities say the operation reveals there is a problem with child sex trafficking locally, but it’s not limited to St. George — the issue is prevalent throughout the country.
“We have open cases and we’re exploring those,” Barfuss said. “There’s a level that needs to be met for criminal prosecution, and the individuals who were arrested all clearly crossed that line multiple times in order for us to book them into jail and pursue charges against them.”
Authorities say they established approximately 5 pre-planned locations familiar to all law enforcement agencies within about one mile of the Dixie State University police station, all of which have safety and contingency plans in place to plan the arrests. Police say they gave the individuals that engaged in illegal activity online the opportunity to come and meet the individual they thought was a child under the age of 14 to have sex with. This case and operation was specifically geared around sexual exploitation of minors, whether that be individuals that are sending illegal videos and images of themselves or soliciting that material, according to police.
Police arrested the following 12 individuals:
- Mason Holzendorf, of St. George, faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic).
- Curtis Mills, of Cedar City, faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic), contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and drug charges.
- Donte Ford, of Tulare, California faces a third-degree felony charge of human trafficking, a third-degree felony charge of transporting contraband to jail, and drug charges. According to police, Ford allegedly traveled to St. George under the ploy he was meeting with a young woman in need of money and bringing her to Las Vegas to potentially become a prostitute.
- Nathan Rose, of St. George faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic).
- Alex Bustos, of St. George faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic).
- Michael Erskine, of St. George faces a second-degree felony charge of rape of a child under the age of 14, a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic), a third-degree felony charge of exploiting a minor (pornography), and a second-degree felony charge of criminal solicitation.
- Skyler Carter of Cedar City faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic), a third-degree felony charge of exploiting a minor (pornography), and obstruction of justice.
- Joseph Cooke of Kanab faces a second-degree felony charge of rape of a child under the age of 14 and a second-degree felony of criminal solicitation.
- Jacob Rogers of Las Vegas, Nevada faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic), a third-degree felony charge of providing harmful material to a minor.
- Adrian Hernandez of St. George faces a second-degree felony charge of rape of a child under the age of 14 and a third-degree felony charge of providing harmful material to a minor.
- John Krampf, of Kane County, faces nine felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
- Ali Alnasser, of Cedar City, faces a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor (electronic).
Authorities served a search warrant at a Kane County residence of John Krampf, who police say was distributing thousands of images and videos of child pornography. Authorities are actively working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other partners to compare the material to databases they have in place and determine if there are any new victims, according to Barfuss.
“We want to thank our community partners and the public for bringing this to our attention,” Barfuss said. “The big takeaway is that parents and community members need to remain vigilant and educate children about internet safety and resources to help us best have those conversations.”