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Northwest Arkansas law enforcement on hunt for potential sexual predators | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

SILOAM SPRINGS — Law enforcement officers said they were able to track an Illinois man’s cellphone as he made the 597-mile trek to Benton County.

Thomas Riemer, 64, had started communicating on Aug. 5, 2022, with an undercover Benton County sheriff’s detective on a social media site, according to court documents. The detective was posing as a mother with 10- and 4-year-old daughters, according to court documents.

Riemer and the detective reportedly started communicating on the site, then started exchanging text messages.

He made plans with the detective to come to Bentonville to engage in sex acts with the girls, who are not real people, according to court documents.

The detective and other law enforcement officers reportedly tracked Riemer’s cellphone on Aug. 9, 2022, as he traveled from Plainfield, Ill., to Bentonville. They were waiting and arrested Riemer when he arrived at a meeting location.

Riemer is charged with internet stalking of a child, conspiracy to rape, traveling for the purpose of an unlawful sex act with a minor and distributing, possessing or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child.

He was released from jail on $350,000 bond, but failed to appear in court in December. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Riemer’s is one of dozens of internet stalking cases being handled by the Benton County prosecuting attorney’s office.

Siloam Springs police have been particularly active when it comes to making arrests in these kinds of cases; since Jan. 1, 2022, they’ve arrested 33 people in connection with internet stalking of a child, according to Thomas Gean, a Benton County deputy prosecutor. The prosecuting attorney’s office has handled 26 other cases since 2007, he said.

A Siloam Springs undercover detective poses as a child — sometimes a boy, other times a girl. The online communications could lead to a suspect’s sending sexually explicit messages and even photographs to the detective.

Some agree to meet the teen with the belief they’ll have sex with a child. They arrive at an agreed meeting place in Siloam Springs and are met by police instead of a child.

Law enforcement officers across the country are faced with similar crimes.

There are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day. Children between the ages of 12 and 15 are especially susceptible to being groomed or manipulated by adults they meet online, according to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center.

Online enticement involves an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. This is a broad category of online exploitation and includes sextortion, in which a child is groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with someone for sexual purposes or to engage in a sexual conversation online or, in some instances, to sell or trade the child’s sexual images.

This type of victimization takes place across social media, messaging apps and gaming platforms, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Trenton Parker, 26, of Colcord, Okla., recently pleaded guilty to internet stalking of a child and possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and will be required to register as as sex offender.

He was arrested Aug. 4, 2022. A Siloam Springs police officer pretended to be a 14-year-old boy online and encountered Parker; the two exchanged messages on a social media site, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

The undercover officer informed Parker he was 14. Parker exchanged sexually graphic messages with the officer and sent a sexually explicit photograph and video to the officer, according to the affidavit.

Parker planned to pick up the teen Aug. 4 and take him somewhere to have sex, according to the affidavit. He was arrested when he arrived at the location in Siloam Springs, the affidavit states.

Capt. Derek Spicer with the Siloam Springs Police Department did not respond to questions submitted to him about the internet arrests.

Tyler Dunn, a Benton County deputy prosecutor, said most of the internet stalking cases involving Siloam Springs are still working their way through the court system.

Dunn said there have not been any dismissals of any of the arrests.

“Before investigators begin these types of ‘chat cases,’ they are trained to avoid entrapment defenses,” Dunn said. “The law is very clear that merely presenting the opportunity for a criminal to commit a crime is not entrapment.”

Dunn said internet stalking became a Y felony in 2017. It’s a Y felony whenever an actual meeting occurs between the defendant and the child or the person believed to be a child, which in most of the county’s cases is the investigating officer, Dunn said.

The charge is a Class B felony if the meeting does not occur.

A person can be sentenced from 10 to 40 years or life in prison if convicted of a Y felony, but the punishment range for a B felony is a prison sentence ranging from five to 20 years.

Kelly Cantrell, public information officer for the Washington County sheriff’s office, said the sheriff’s office does not have investigators assigned specifically to work online predator investigations. Cantrell said the sheriff’s office does investigate such activity when they receive any tips or other information that would warrant an investigation.

Bentonville attorney Cody Dowden said he’s handled six to 10 cases concerning sting operations set up by law enforcement.

Dowden said the strategy he uses is to try to humanize his client to the prosecutor. Dowden said most people caught in the stings seem to give in to a moment of weakness — an impulse decision to see if it’s really real.

Dowden said he’s never had a prospective client contact him when an actual juvenile is involved in the internet cases.

“I think there are far more law enforcement officers out there pretending to be under-aged girls than there are actual underage girls who might be vulnerable to someone attempting to meet them,” Dowden said.

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