Craigslist’s personal ads service was no more as of Friday. But before that part of the classifieds website shuttered, Southwest Idaho law enforcement used it this month to arrest 11 men accused of trying to arrange sex with minors.
The allegations against each man differ somewhat. But all of the cases began with an investigator posing as either a child or the parent of a child and communicating through ads posted on the site.
The sting operation was led by the Idaho Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, a collaboration of several law enforcement agencies. Five of the men arrested face state charges in Ada County; the other five are charged in federal court.
Authorities had investigated Jerry Moore, 42, of Weiser, for possible child porn possession last summer but never charged him, prosecutors said.
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On March 19, during Moore’s first court appearance, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Kassandra Slaven said police had served a warrant at Moore’s home in August. She said Moore dropped his cellphone in the toilet when police arrived, and they found no evidence of child porn.
In December, Slaven said, an investigator responded to an advertisement on Craigslist that Moore had allegedly posted asking for a sexual partner. The investigator posed as a 15-year-old girl and had an ongoing dialogue with Moore for several months, according to Slaven. She said that throughout the conversation, Moore allegedly told the “girl” that he wanted to impregnate her and would then molest those resulting children.
Investigators realized as the conversation went on that they were talking with Moore, the same man they investigated in August, Slaven said.
Moore was arrested when he went to meet the “girl” in Ada County in March. He remained in the Ada County Jail on Monday with a bond of $500,000, on charges of enticement of a child with the use of the internet and attempted sexual exploitation of a child.
Omar Luna, 28, of Boise, is charged in federal court with suspected sex trafficking of a child after he allegedly spoke with an undercover officer who posed as a “mother” who wanted to have sex with a man and “her 15-year-old daughter.”
That conversation also started when Luna responded to the fake ad on Craigslist. Court documents claim Luna agreed to pay for the sex.
Most of the men were charged with suspected enticement of a child: Samuel Grove, 29, of Baker City, Oregon; Matthew Kruzich, 49, of Boise; Anthony Magana, 30, of Boise; Steven Walker, 50, of Nampa; Gary Baker, 49, of Caldwell; and Jason Kitley, 48, of Boise. Terry Horn, 39, of Garden City, and Noel Ramirez, 24, of Boise, and Michael Johnson, 62, of Boise, each face a charge of attempted lewd conduct with a minor younger than 16.
Bond figures for those charged in federal court were not available. Four of the men charged in Ada County 4th District Court were held on bonds ranging from $100,000 to $350,000.
Ramirez posted his $100,000 bond on March 21. Johnson’s bond was set at only $25,000 and he posted it on Monday.
It’s unclear how the ICAC task force views Craigslist’s decision Friday to shutter the personals section; the AG’s office declined questions about it Monday. But that change was also tied to efforts to fight child sex trafficking – in this case, the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which cleared Congress last week by large margins. The measure creates new civil and criminal ramifications for websites that host prostitution ads, even if they’re posted by third parties. That’s a rare exception to existing liability protections that date back to the early years of the internet, and one that’s proving deeply divisive online.
President Donald Trump has not yet signed the bill into law. Its passage was enough for Craigslist, which once had a separate section for “erotic services” that it removed in 2010. In a statement on its website, the company wrote, “Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.”