COLUMBUS – A citizen jury has returned a guilty verdict against a North Carolina elementary school custodian charged with enticing a child for sex, said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. William Pruitt, 49, of Franklin, North Carolina, was found guilty late Thursday afternoon on one count of Enticing a Minor for Sex. The charge carries a minimum ten years to a maximum life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The trial began Monday, March 4, 2019 in a Columbus federal courtroom, presided over by the Honorable Clay D. Land. There is no parole in the federal system. Mr. Pruitt will be sentenced in June.
According to facts presented at trial, on November 10, 2017 Mr. Pruitt began communicating with an undercover agent posing as a 14-year-old girl named “Brianna” on Craigslist, a popular classified advertisements website. The undercover agent was working on a larger Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) sting that operated from November 9, 2017 until November 13, 2017 centered in Columbus, Georgia, targeting on-line child predators willing to pay to have sex with a child. Approximately 20 individuals were arrested during this operation, including Mr. Pruitt. The undercover agent posted an ad in the personals section on November 9, 2017, and Mr. Pruitt responded the next day. During the online conversation, the undercover agent informed Mr. Pruitt several times that “Brianna” was 14 years old. The online chatting became sexual in nature, with Mr. Pruitt making lewd comments and stating directly that he wished to have sex with the girl, asking the girl to send nude photos of herself and even offering to pay money for the child to send her used underwear to his mother’s house for his personal graphic use. During the correspondence, Mr. Pruitt made clear he was traveling from North Carolina to Columbus to meet the child for sex. On November 12, 2017, Mr. Pruitt was arrested at the front door of the undercover house. Following the arrest, Mr. Pruitt made a voluntary, post-Miranda statement, admitting he knew the child was under the age of consent, that he was meeting the child for sex and that he had been battling sexual fantasies with similar age girls. At the time, Mr. Pruitt was the custodian at a North Carolina elementary school and a school bus driver.
“Sexual crimes against children, particularly when the perpetrator is in a position of trust, are truly the most deplorable crimes in our society today. The defendant’s conviction is part of a much larger effort in Georgia to fight the child sex and pornography trade on the internet,” said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “Law enforcement agencies at every level are successfully working together to arrest and prosecute people who intend to hurt children. This collaboration directly results in children being protected in Georgia.”
“The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the agencies that are members of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force will continue to work together to diligently and proactively seek out those who wish to do harm to our children,” said Debbie Garner, Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and Special Agent in Charge of the Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit at the GBI.
The Georgia ICAC Task Force is comprised of 200+ local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, other related criminal justice agencies and prosecutor’s offices. The mission of the ICAC Task Force, created by the U. S. Department of Justice and managed and operated by the GBI in Georgia, is to assist state and local law enforcement agencies in developing an effective response to cyber enticement and child pornography cases. This support encompasses forensic and investigative components, training and technical assistance, victim services, prevention and community education. The ICAC Program was developed in response to the increasing number of children and teenagers using the internet, the proliferation of child pornography, and the heightened online activity by predators searching for unsupervised contact with underage victims. By helping state and local law enforcement agencies develop effective and sustainable responses to online child victimization and child pornography, the ICAC program delivers national resources at the local level.
This case was investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, the Columbus Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Georgia, with assistance from the District Attorney’s Office for Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Crawford Seals and Chris Williams are prosecuting the case for the Government.
Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.
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