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CLEARFIELD — Although the last remaining Clearfield County criminal cases filed as a result of the efforts of the 814 Pred Hunters group have been withdrawn or dismissed, changes in the current law could allow the group to continue their work.

Clearfield County President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman ruled in July that the charges filed in one of these cases did not hold up because the interaction with the accused predator was with a decoy from the group posing as an underage victim when the law requires the offensive conduct be with a minor or a member of law enforcement.

“The General Assembly specifically chose the language of the Unlawful Contact with Minors statute; if the General Assembly intended to criminalize communicating with vigilantes (i.e. non-law enforcement individuals) posing as minors, then the statute would, in its plain language, express that intent,” his opinion said.

This ruling caused a domino effect with Ammerman’s cases being dismissed first before Judge Paul Cherry reviewed the information and agreed to dismiss the cases assigned to him.

During one of these court proceedings, Ammerman commented that at least one state representative was working on changing the law and he hoped that “whatever they do, it fixes the problem and does not exacerbate it.”

First Assistant District Attorney Leanne Nedza agreed and said she hoped they fix this “sooner than later.” In another case, Nedza stated that what the defendant had done was “disgusting,” but the Commonwealth could not legally proceed with prosecuting him.

The state representative Ammerman mentioned is Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Hollidaysburg, who issued a memo on Aug. 25 citing his intention of proposing a change in the law.

“Specifically, my bill would authorize any individual to assume the identity of a minor for the purpose of catching predators who solicit sex from minors over the internet,” it says in the memo.

“At a time when our law enforcement agencies are suffering from significant staffing shortages and retention issues, law enforcement officers are often unable to devote the time and resources needed to catch the multitude of predators who prowl the internet for vulnerable children.

“By allowing any individual to pose as a minor for the purpose of enforcing the unlawful contact with a minor statute, these predators may be less likely to target and prey on children.”

This House Bill 1660 was sent to the judiciary committee for consideration on Sept. 7.

The 814 Pred Hunter group — started in September 2022 and based in Clearfield County — has continued their efforts to find and “catch” predators, with cases filed in multiple other counties and nearby states.

In a previous interview, group organizers explained the decoys have profiles on dating apps with photos of actual women who are aged down to look like teens, rather than use photos of actual young girls.

The messages from various men come in “non-stop” on several dating apps with various profiles worked by the members.

Background checks and other research are done about the men so they have an idea with whom they are dealing, they said.

A meeting is then set up with the men who believe they are going to see the teen they have been messaging.

Instead, the group confronts the potential offender during a live stream on their Facebook page, which has over 30,000 followers. Police are then called and presented with a binder with copies of the messages and any photos exchanged, they explained.

The charges filed in these cases have varied depending on the messages, photos and alleged intent of the men.

The group remains hopeful the laws will be changed to help them find potential child predators before they make contact with an actual child.

The Clearfield County cases dismissed include charges against (in alphabetical order):

— Michael Alessi, Osceola Mills.

— Richard Fix, Pittsburgh.

— Cody Fye, Weedville.

— Todd Guldenschuh, Ligonier.

— Kevin F. Huey, Rockton.

— Donato Ramon Jimenez, Altoona.

— Sonny Brooks Kelley, New Baltimore.

— Kenneth Klinger, Brisbin.

— David Palmgren, Clearfield.

— Gene Williams Robbins, Woodland.

— Ryan Matthew Sprage, DuBois.

— Eric Styers, Mill Hall.

— Matthew Allen Uncles, Clearfield.

— Keith Welch, Mount Union.

Four cases were adjudicated prior to Ammerman’s ruling.

Christopher Matthew Link of DuBois, Kyle Logan of DuBois and Shyam Pranami Gouli of Hicksville, New York, all received time served sentences with probation after pleading guilty to attempted corruption of minors.

Edwin Gomez-Lamadrid of Barranguilla, Columbia, was given a state prison sentence of three months to two years in state prison for solicitation/indecent assault.

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