Macon school employee arrested for sexual exploitation of a minor

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Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer

An undercover operation in Muscogee County, Georgia, has lead to the arrest of a Macon County Schools employee. William Pruitt, 48, of Franklin, who has been employed with the Macon County School District since April 26, 2016, serving as a substitute bus driver, was arrested Sunday night in Columbus, Ga., 236 miles from Franklin, for sexual exploitation of a minor.

Pruitt was also employed by the Jackson County School district as a custodian for Smokey Mountain Elementary School and was a substitute bus driver for the district. Both Macon and Jackson released statements following Pruitt’s arrest announcing his immediate termination. Both districts also stated that at this time, the respective districts knew of no connection between the arrest and the local districts. Both Macon and Jackson counties asked if anyone has any information pertaining to Pruitt to contact the local Sheriff’s Department.

Pruitt’s charge of sexual exploitation of a minor follows an undercover investigation that specifically targeted individuals who were willing to exploit children by purchasing sex with a minor. Online child predators visit chat rooms and websites on the internet, find children, begin conversations with them, introduce sexual content and arrange a meeting with the children for the purpose of having sex. The children these predators target are both boys and girls. Since 2014, the Georgia ICAC Task Force has arrested more than 120 people in similar operations.

“Operation Hidden Guardian” involved joint cooperation with several agencies  including: Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Floyd County Police Department Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center (GISAC), Glynn County Police Department, LaGrange Police Department, Marietta Police Department, Tallapoosa Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Secret Service.

The investigation took several months to plan and over a five-day period, investigators engaged in more than 600 exchanges between individuals on social media platforms. More than 400 of those were exchanges in which the subject initiated contact and directed the conversation towards sex. The exchanges involved websites used for dating, socializing, or even websites used for classified advertisements. Some persons when told they were talking with a minor reacted appropriately and ceased communications. However, in some of those instances, the subject continued to communicate. Over the course of the operation, almost 40 cases were established that met the threshold for arrest. Twenty-one of those cases were concluded with arrests. In some of those cases, the adult introduced obscene or lewd content, often exposing the minor (undercover agent) to pornography or requesting the child take nude or pornographic images for them.The exchanges lead to the arrest of 20 men who were arrested for charges such as electronic pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor. The individuals who were arrested ranged from 22 to 55 years old and were from North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia.

Some of the occupations of those arrested included forklift driver, mechanic, car wash attendant, military instructor, electrician, school custodian, research assistant and several were unemployed.

Sheriff Robert Holland said that his detectives actively work to educate children on the dangers of social media and internet predators. MCSO detectives Amy Stewart and Dani Burrows work cooperatively with Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC).  Detective Dani Burrows is an active member with the NC ICAC Task Force.  The detectives are continuously implementing the use of new technology and electronic resources regarding cases that involve child sexual and physical abuse.

During the course of these investigations, parents and caretakers are often caught off guard as to the degree with which adolescents use cell phones, computers, and social media to exchange sexually explicit images and communication.  Sheriff Holland has taken a proactive approach to educating the public about concerns with social media and cell phones.  Detectives, along with School Resource Officers, have given presentations at Franklin High School and Macon Middle School, as well as presentations to community groups about the legal issues of child exploitation and Internet safety.

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