SIERRA VISTA – A Cochise County grand jury issued indictments Thursday against six men arrested last week during an Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force operation which targeted sexual predators in the Sierra Vista area.
Meanwhile, federal authorities released the names of three other men taken into custody in the same multi-agency operation who are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office instead of the Cochise County Attorney’s Office.
All nine men arrested in the Feb. 12 to Feb. 16 operation are accused of initiating contact with at least one fake social media profile which purported to belong to a 13- or 14-year-old child. The men then allegedly engaged in sexually explicit discussions with the “teen,” who was actually several specially trained law enforcement officers.
Details of the grand jury’s decision aren’t public until the six defendants are served with notice of indictment. However, the Herald/Review obtained copies of other court documents which describe the events which led to several of the arrests.
According to a probable cause statement, Sierra Vista resident Teofilo V. Lopez Jr. was arrested Feb. 15 after he arrived at a local business to meet a teenage boy. This came after Lopez, 49, exchanged messages with the “minor” via the Grindr social app and discussed taking the youth to an area hotel where Lopez had a room.
After his arrest, Lopez posted a $25,000 bond and was released from custody. He will remain out of custody pending arraignment next month.
Another arrestee is Aaron Michael Garner, 33, a Sierra Vista resident who remains in the county jail in lieu of $25,000 bail. A probable cause statement in his case reveals Detective Adriana Marshall of the Arizona Department of Public Safety posed online as a 14-year-old boy from Hereford as part of the ICAC operation.
On Feb. 15, the detective’s fake profile was contacted by someone named Mike who sent explicit messages and his address prior to arranging to meet the boy for sex. Garner was arrested at the meeting location after he described what he would be wearing.
Also arrested was Kevin Leroy Echternach, 58, who at the time was on probation for a 2015 felony credit card theft conviction. His bail is set at $100,000 but Echternach must remain in jail until a judge rules on the county attorney’s petition to revoke probation in the theft case.
Others facing state charges from the ICAC operation are Wayne Eugene Hawkins, 43; Alexandru Dumitrascu, 32; and Joshua M. Davilla, 33. As of Thursday they remain in jail in lieu of posting bail.
State law imposes mandatory prison sentences for those convicted of sex crimes involving children under age 15.
The three men being federally prosecuted are Joseph Warren Montgomery, Alexander True Norman, and Scott Eugene Hamsher. They are charged under Section 2422 of U.S. Code Title 18 and are alleged to have knowingly induced or enticed, or attempted to induce or entice, an individual they knew to be under the age of 18 to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Federal law calls for a term of imprisonment of not less than 10 years for each count.
The men were arrested with condoms in their possession after arranging online to meet a minor. Each made post-Miranda statements that they intended to have sex with the child, according to criminal complaints authored by Special Agent Daniel Sutcliffe of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Montgomery, 48, was granted conditional pre-trial release by a magistrate judge Thursday. He is accused of messaging a 14-year-old girl about his interest in a domination fetish and told investigators he planned to meet and then take her to the Charleston Road Bridge for sex.
“Montgomery further stated that he knew what he was doing was wrong and that it won’t happen again,” Sutcliffe wrote in the criminal complaint.
The criminal complaint against Norman, 22, alleges he sent a message to one of the profiles in which he expressed a desire “to pin you down as you struggle.” Another message described sex acts he wanted to perform with the 14-year-old girl and he also transmitted a photo of male genitalia.
Norman, who lives in Tucson, allegedly sent sexually explicit messages to another of the undercover profiles during the same ICAC operation.
Hamsher, a 49-year-old California resident, sent messages under the username “drtyknkyfn” to one of the female ICAC profiles. He said he was in Sierra Vista and asked about the girl’s sexual experience.
“Hamsher further stated that he knew the girl he was meeting was under the age of 18 and stated that her age didn’t matter to him when he was planning to meet her,” Sutcliffe wrote in the criminal complaint.
Norman and Hamsher remain under pre-trial detention of the U.S. Marshals Service until a Feb. 25 detention hearing at U.S. District Court.
The agencies involved in the recent ICAC operation included HSI, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, Customs and Border Protection, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Sierra Vista Police Department, and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. The Tombstone Marshal’s Office, U.S. Border Patrol, and Bisbee Police Department assisted with arrests.