GREENVILLE – Twelve years ago, Dateline NBC launched an undercover investigation into online sexual predators, known as “To Catch a Predator.”
The first three undercover investigations were in or near big cities – New York City, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
The fourth sting operation took place 10 years ago this month, and it was conducted in the very heart of small-town America: Greenville, Ohio. The arrests occurred March 24-26, 2006, and the events unfolded on the screen over two one-hour episodes of Dateline that aired in April and May as the first half of a month-long series of “To Catch a Predator” specials.
Seventeen people were arrested at the Greenville residence set up as the site of the sting operation. The location of the sting meant that the potential predators had to travel from such surrounding cities as Indianapolis, Columbus and Cincinnati upwards of an hour and a half in order to reach their intended victims. The men had traveled after having online conversations with Internet users they believed were juveniles 13 to 15 years old.
Dateline teamed up with the nonprofit website PervertedJustice.com. Volunteers posed as juveniles in the chatrooms and waited for the predators to start up conversations with them. The predators set up meetings with the ersatz juveniles with the explicit intention of having a sexual encounter. The meetings were to take place at a residence in Greenville specifically set up for the operation.
The television people set up 11 hidden cameras at the residence – seven outside covering all angles of the driveway, side and back of the house, and four cameras on the inside. Because of Ohio’s state laws on evidence requirements for sting operations, three Perverted-Justice volunteers were temporarily deputized for the operation.
Those arrested and charged with attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor were as follows: Joshua L. Tuttle, of Franklin; Nicholas L. Bailey, of Grove City; Jason F. Schoeppner, of Columbus; Nathan E. Downhour, of Montpelier, Indiana; Robb E. Kline, of Toledo; Timothy E. Isaac, of Reynoldsburg; James M. Rutherford, of Mainville; Ronnell D. Stephens, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Alonzo H. Wade, of Greenfield; Davut Ozkan, of Euclid; Mahadevaswamy A. Chandrashekaraiah, of Lexington, Kentucky; John W. Frantz, of West Milton; Jay W. Reffner, of Findlay; Kenneth J. Brinkman, of Kettering; Jeffrey D. Stacy, of Lebanon; Roger W. Burmmitt, of Defiance; and Kevin T. Westerbeck, of New Lebanon.
Among the men caught were one who was to begin a prison sentence four days later for a charge of solicitation, as well as a sixth-grade Catholic school teacher who was also chatting at the same time to another undercover sting operation based in Indiana. There was a paramedic pretending to be a firefighter and a student at an evangelical college.
Seven of the men filed to have the indictments thrown out, with defense attorneys contending that the sting violated state law because of Dateline’s involvement with Perverted-Justice. The judge dismissed those motions, and all of those arrested were convicted – most by pleading guilty, but two took it to trial and were convicted.