Authorities have arrested 22 suspects after a sex sting operation in Genesee County.
The suspects were arrested on multiple charges including crimes relating to soliciting sex with underage children, child sexually abusive activity, communicating with another to commit a crime on the internet, and accosting for immoral purposes.
Other charges are pending including child porn and human trafficking.
Collectively, the suspects could serve more than 1,000 combined years in potential prison time.
The five week long investigation, headed by the newly formed Genesee Human Oppression Strike Team (GHOST), started on April 11 and ended on June 15.
“The investigation is a sobering reminder that we must be more vigilant than ever protecting our children, even when they are not in public,” Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell wrote in a Facebook post. “Predators are increasingly becoming more adept at interacting with children through various social media platforms.”
Pickell said the suspects are believed to have been targeting children in Genesee County for sexual purposes.
Among the victims were a 14-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl, Pickell said.
During the investigation, officials recovered about $3,000 that Pickell said was going to be used in exchange for sex with the children.
The suspects brought substances such as marijuana, crack, and alcohol as well as guns and knives, Pickell said.
These suspects come from different surrounding counties including Saginaw, Shiawassee, Oakland, Wayne, Lapeer, and Tuscola.
"This is the scary part about this business is that young kids think they are running away from home to a better environment and they are actually just running into a more severe problem," Pickell said.
The sheriff said the suspects had different professions that range from restaurant workers to financial advisers. The list even includes Carl Spradlin, a senior vice president at Comerica Bank.
Since Friday, June 7, the newly formed GHOST team arrested two more suspects.
One is accused of sexually assaulting a 2-year-old while the other allegedly assaulted a 6-year-old.
Pickell said three human trafficking felony charges are also pending.
The sheriff said the GHOST team was working on the dark web to find the alleged predators.
"That is where these predators and pedophiles are roaming and lurking," Pickell said at Monday's press conference. "Where they are trying to entice children. I have a warning to these pedophiles. The next time you look into your computer and you don't think anyone is watching, look again because you might see me on the other end of the computer and the sheriff's GHOST will be there and it will be the worst nightmare you have ever seen. They will track you down."
On Friday, the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office said among the arrested suspects is a mother, Jennifer Beckman, who was charged with human trafficking her 6-year-old daughter.
Pickell said Beckman provided her daughter to have sex with one of the suspects, 33-year-old Michael Foster.
Upon further investigation, authorities learned Foster was having sex with his 2-year-old daughter.
Another suspect that Pickell pointed out was George Huffman II saying Huffman ran for the United State House of Representatives in 2010, gaining 33 percent of the vote.
In 2018, Huffman ran for the United States Senate on the U.S. tax-payer ticket and won 27,000 votes, Pickell said.
The GHOST team evolved from a task force that protects the elderly against abuse which was created in 2007 by the sheriff's office.
The sheriff said the GHOST team will be funded until the fall, but is also working on a county grant to keep it running after that.
"I have a warning for mothers, fathers and grandparents. We used to worry about children outside of the house playing. Now we have to worry about them when they are inside of the house in their bedrooms on the computer," Pickell said.
He hopes this will send a message to those looking to exploit children.
"And I have another warning to the pedophiles. Next time you go on the computer and you don't think anyone is watching, look again. Because you might see my face at the other end of the computer," Pickell said.