A Potomac man drove 28 miles to a sandwich shop in Chantilly, Va. last week, but it wasn't for a sandwich. The man believed he was meeting a young girl for sex, according to Fairfax County Police.
Wesley Creel of the 12400 block of Rivers Edge Drive had arranged the rendezvous in an online chat room, police say. He thought he was talking to a 15-year-old girl, whom he had solicited for sex, according to police. In fact, he was talking to a Fairfax County detective.
When Creel arrived at the shop's parking lot in the 13600 block of Lee Jackson Highway on March 9, he was met by police and arrested.
He was charged with using a communications system to facilitate certain offenses involving children, a class six felony. He was released from the Adult Detention Center the next day on $25,000 bond and has an April 26 court date. If convicted, Creel could be sentenced to a possible maximum of five years in prison.
Fairfax County officials would not name the detective who posed as the girl, but said that he is part of the county's Child Exploitation Unit and works full-time on Internet solicitations of this type.
"He goes on the Internet and he poses as a young girl, perhaps sometimes as a young boy. If he is solicited by a person on the Web and that person basically breaks the law by trying to solicit sex by somebody that he believes to be minor girl," said Mary Mulrenan a civilian spokesperson for Fairfax County Police.
The detective must walk a fine line to ensure that he witnesses an online crime, rather than entrapping someone. "He doesn't actually do anything ... He begins kind of exchanging with other people. Only when they start talking in a solicitous manner" does he arrange a rendezvous. The crime is in the solicitation, Mulrenan said, so detectives need no further evidence to make an arrest when they meet the perpetrator.
As for the detective's ability to pose as a teenage girl, "He has a daughter and stays aware of how they talk," Mulrenan said, as well as picking up cues from others in the chat rooms.
Mulrenan said that the detective's online activities lead to roughly 40 solicitations per month and about 15 arrests per year.
Montgomery County officials helped out in the case. "We received a call from Fairfax County requesting our assistance and we worked with them on it, assisting them and then it all went back to Fairfax County," said Derek Baliles, a spokesman for Montgomery County Police.
"We do have a Pedophile Unit, and the Pedophile Unit works cases like these here in Montgomery County," Baliles said.
Online crimes of all types are something investigators have had to adapt to. And while members of the Pedophile Unit are "especially reluctant to discuss some aspects of their work" according to Baliles, they do conduct online investigations.
"It's one of the areas we attempt to monitor. But these people know they are being watched and frequently change their approaches. Sometimes we're playing catch up and sometimes we go fishing," Baliles said.
Baliles and Mulrenan both offered advice to parents in light of the increase in online sexual predation.
"First of all they should keep the computers in a public area of the house. Their children should not be in their bedrooms," using the computer where they cannot be monitored, Mulrenan said. "They can also purchase those software that help block certain sites. ... We advise parents to be aware of what their children are doing on the Internet."
"Be nosy about where your kids are on the Internet. Know who they're talking to," Baliles said.
And don't forget that more old-fashioned types of predation also take place — adults trying to lure children into cars for example. Parents should discuss with children what to do if someone approaches them. Parents should tell their children, "even if they're offering you money, don't approach them. Turn and go the other way. Think of an excuse — ‘hey, I think I hear my mom calling,’ Rehearse with your kids how to react if someone would confront them."
Reporter Bonnie Hobbs contributed to this story.