ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - The subjects of the undercover stings conducted are from all over the country, many of them are from Missouri.
Anthony Greene runs “Truckers Against Predators” and hopes to stop child predators. His organization posts ads on various social media sites to find potential targets.
“Basically, what we do is catfish,” said Greene.
Greene told News 4 his organization poses as young victims and the age is repeatedly made clear to the potential targets.
He added, “These monsters text these girls thinking they are 12 or 13 years old.”
Instead, the targets are texting with Greene or one of his assistants. Greene is far from alone, in Florida, Shane Coyle runs the online site “The Ultimate Decoy.”
Coyle and Greene recently “teamed” up in St. Louis as part of an effort to conduct undercover stings. Coyle told News 4 he was in town to “meet with Anthony to spread the movement further.”
On the day News 4 spoke with the pair, they were communicating with a man from Union, Missouri. According to Greene and Coyle, the target sent vulgar pictures and expressed interested in sexual contact with an underage minor.
Coyle told News 4 he spent time in prison for drug possession and during that time he was in close contact with sex offenders.
He said, “I baseball punched them as I walked around the track, yes.”
Although they both admit they “despise” sex offenders, both said they don’t want anyone to be physically harmed when they confront alleged offenders while streaming live.
Greene said, “People say we are vigilantes, if we were vigilantes we wouldn’t turn the camera on.”
Both men said it’s their ultimate goal to see the men they target in handcuffs but getting a prosecution is difficult. Coyle said he’s confronted 76 men but none has been prosecuted. Greene said one target was recently prosecuted in Arizona but News 4 is still awaiting confirmation on the name.
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In Missouri, state statute 566.151 deals with “enticement of a child.” It specifically states: “It is not a defense to a prosecution for a violation of this section that the other person was a peace officer masquerading as a minor.”
The statute doesn’t specifically allow private citizens the same protections.
St. Louis University criminal justice professor Anders Walker said, “Until we get a judge to rule on this, it’s plausible it means only police can engage in these types of stings.”
Greene is hoping to gather enough signatures on a petition to amend the state law.
In November, Greene confronted a man named Joshua Mastin after Greene posed as a minor online. Mastin was later charged with felony enticement of a child in Franklin County but those charges were later dropped.
Franklin County prosecutor Matt Becker told News 4, “When we reviewed the entire product presented to us in total, it was insufficient to maintain a criminal prosecution.”
Becker added, “These are very difficult operations to pull off. Somebody who graduates from the police academy and certified law enforcement officer on day one wouldn’t be qualified to run a sting of this nature.”
In St. Charles County, the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce conducts online stings to catch child predators. The organization released a statement regarding private organizations conducting law enforcement operations:
“The Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (MO ICAC) does not approve, condone, encourage or promote cyber-vigilantism by private citizens. As such, MO ICAC members are prohibited from utilizing private citizens to proactively seek out investigative persons of interest. The primary concern for MO ICAC is public safety for all citizens. Activities conducted by vigilante groups place the public as a whole at unnecessary risk and fail to provide legally obtained evidence utilizable for criminal prosecution. To the contrary, methodologies employed by vigilante groups often thwart legitimate law enforcement efforts to include active investigations which have the potential to definitively protect children and direct suspects/offenders into a the criminal justice system. MO ICAC values its relationship with the community and encourages the public to forward any concerns or suspected criminal activity to MO ICAC for investigation.”
Both Greene and Coyle insist they have plenty of experience conducting stings. Both men said they are fathers hoping to protect children, and state their undercover stings will continue.Greene said even if the cases don’t result in prosecution there’s a benefit.
He said, “Sometimes social media justice is better than police justice” and added “we are doing a service. You would want to know if these people live next door to you.”
Click here for ways to report predators and for resources parents can use.