(Jan. 30, 2015) Twenty-one suspected sex offenders have been rounded up in Worcester County and neighboring areas, following a campaign by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office that began more than a year ago.
In revealing the existence and the results of the office’s “Operation Worcester Safety Net” last Thursday in Snow Hill, Detective Cpl. Alex Kagan said it proved “that predators are here and hunting in Worcester County. They are hunting our children.”
The operation began in December 2013 after the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to allow the sheriff’s office to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Maryland State Police.
That made the sheriff’s office an affiliate of the federally managed Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force and part of a national network of local law enforcement agencies dedicated to catching sexual crimes committed by internet users.
ICAC task forces receive leads from various local law enforcement, in addition to, tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The tips are submitted by various social media websites, Internet service providers, cell phone companies and apps.
In addition, investigations into file-sharing websites and other popular websites such as Craigslist are viewed or posted on by police to find pedophiles attempting to entice a child into a sexual encounter.
“This type of operation has to be done and we opened Pandora’s Box. These crimes are going on and much worse,” Kagan said.
Police said many of those arrested were discovered sharing files over what is known as a peer-to-peer network, which allows computers to communicate with each other individually. Others were arrested after police answered online ads soliciting sex with a minor and arranged meetings with the suspects.
Assisting in the investigations were the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation, the Maryland State Police, the Wicomico County Child Advocacy Center and Homeland Security RAC Ocean City.
Below is the list of those arrested or for whom charges are pending.
Jason Root, 37, of near Snow Hill was arrested in October 2013, pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and was sentenced to five years in jail.
Laiton Witkowski, 42, of Stockton, Md. was arrested in February 2014, pleaded guilty in federal court to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Police said he had the largest collection of child pornography in the state and it took weeks to sift through.
Jose Cano-Lopez, 21, of Berlin was arrested on April 14, 2014, pleaded guilty to child pornography charges in Worcester County Circuit Court and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Darrell Richardson, 55, of Pocomoke City, was charged last June with downloading and sharing images of child erotica. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 60 days in the county jail and 18 months of supervised probation.
David Kerstetter, 55, of near Berlin was arrested on July 2 last year and was indicted on charges of possession and distribution of child pornography on Jan. 21 and is awaiting trial.
Scott Woodgeard, 35, of Parsonsburg was charged child pornography violations and the case is pending in Wicomico County.
David Andrews, 51, of Salisbury, a registered sex offender, was arrested in July and will face child pornography charges in federal court along with violating his parole.
Earnest Patterson, 44, of Fruitland was arrested in August and faces child pornography charges in Wicomico County.
Carlos Mejia, 35, of Seaford, Del. was arrested on Aug. 11, 2014 in a sting operation, with a detective posing online as a 12-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty on Jan. 26, to soliciting sex with a minor in Worcester County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to five years in prison with all but six months suspended, at which time he will begin deportation proceedings.
Bruce Deforest, 70, of Millsboro, Del. was arrested on Oct. 1, 2014 when he arrived to pick up what he believed was 13-year-old girl. Deforest was charged with solicitation of a minor and is currently awaiting trial.
John McGee, 25, of Laurel, Del. was arrested on Oct. 17, 2014 under similar circumstances. He was charged with solicitation of a minor and the case is awaiting trial.
Charges are pending against Dwayne Turley, 41, of Pocomoke, who denied any knowledge of the pornographic files found on computers in his home.
James Moore, 41, of Cambridge was arrested on Halloween after meeting with police posing as a 13-year-old girl. He was charged with solicitation of a minor and is currently awaiting trial.
Pedro Cedillo, 23, of Eden, was arrested last Nov. 3 for solicitation of sex with a minor and is awaiting trial.
Brandon Ehrisman, 27, of Salisbury was arrested on Nov. 6 for solicitation of sex with a minor and is awaiting trial.
Richard Peters, 39, of Virginia was arrested on Nov. 25 with soliciting sex with a minor and awaiting trial.
Quinton Bell, 50, of Virginia was taken into custody on Dec. 1 on charges of soliciting sex with a minor. He is awaiting trial.
Frank Buccini, 21, of Salisbury was arrested on Dec. 10 for solicitation of sex with a minor and is awaiting trial.
Miguel Valderas, 23, of Quantico, Md. was arrested on Dec. 12 for solicitation of sex with a minor and is awaiting trial.
Richard Maloy, 41, of Waynesboro, Pa. was arrested on Jan. 10 for solicitation of sex with a minor and is awaiting trial.
David Weatherholtz, 55, of West Ocean City was arrested on Dec. 16 and is awaiting trial on multiple charges including solicitation of a minor, sexual abuse of a minor, second-degree assault, perverted practice, sex offense in the fourth degree, sodomy and false imprisonment.