QUEENSBURY — Police made 12 arrests in recent days as they undertook a multi-agency sting, seeking men who wanted to have sex with an underage girl.
Among those arrested were a school bus driver from Saratoga County, a downstate county corrections captain and a local radio personality, according to police. Six of the arrests happened Friday night alone, some coming from the Albany area and one man coming from as far away as eastern Massachusetts.
State Police, Warren County sheriff’s officers and the FBI were involved in the effort, dubbed “Operation Spider Byte,” which was modeled after the “To Catch a Predator” stings that police used on television years ago.
Warren County Sheriff Bud York said the FBI sought local help with an effort to crack down on underage sex trafficking. The Sheriff’s Office has worked closely with the agency in recent years and developed a good relationship with their federal partners, he said.
“Their technological people have been following this and they believe there is a huge need for this type of investigation,” York said.
During an afternoon news conference he said, “It is out there, there is a lot of it out there happening right down the street from probably where you live, and people don’t know about it.”
He called for stricter penalties for offenders and expressed his displeasure with society and the system.
“That’s sick. We in society need to start doing something about this. There is something wrong with the system, we need to change the system,” York said.
He talked of offenders getting out after a couple years, re-offending and ruining families and our future.
Police posted advertisements on online classified ad websites, offering “taboo fun” at a local motel, and when people responded, the undercover police officer indicated they would involve 9- to 14-year-old girls in sex acts. York said all the suspects made admissions when they were questioned.
The suspects who were arrested responded to the ad and arranged a meeting with the understanding it was for sex with the teen, officials said. They face felony charges of attempted criminal sexual act and/or attempted rape.
Some brought marijuana and sex toys with them as they went to meet with the underage girl, officials said. Police seized cellphones from the men to see if they had been involved in any other illicit activity.
According to police and court records, charged were the following:
Thomas G. Abrams, 52, of Wappingers, charged with attempted criminal sexual act. Police said he is a captain with the Westchester County Sheriff’s Office. His status with the agency was not available Monday.
Timothy J. Celeste, 49, of Glens Falls, charged with attempted second-degree criminal sexual act, a felony. He works for local radio stations as a disc jockey.
Thomas J. Clancy III, 21, of Saratoga Springs, charged with attempted second-degree rape.
Peter J. Fava, 41, of Halifax, Massachusetts, charged with attempted second-degree criminal sexual act, a felony.
Frank L. Gunther, 61, of Mechanicville, charged with attempted second-degree criminal sexual act, a felony. Police said he is a bus driver at a school district in Saratoga County, but his job status was not available late Monday.
Gerald F. Harrington III, 36, of Queensbury, charged with attempted second-degree rape.
Adam S. Hiedeman, 32, of Schenectady, charged with attempted second-degree criminal sexual act, a felony.
Mark D. Hodges, 63, of Latham, charged with attempted aggravated sexual abuse and criminal possession of a weapon, both felonies.
William K. O’Connell, 45, of Fort Edward, charged with attempted second-degree rape and attempted second-degree criminal sexual act, both felonies.
Roger P. Whiting III, 43, of Queensbury, charged with attempted second-degree rape.
Paul R. Wilson, 31, of Fort Edward, charged with attempted second-degree rape.
Jose R. Zapatas-Cruz, 32, of Schenectady, charged with attempted second-degree rape.
In addition to those who showed up at meetings, dozens of others responded to the ad and conversed with undercover officers. Some went to the designated meeting place in Queensbury and turned away from the meeting at the last minute.
All who were arrested were arraigned in Queensbury Town Court. Only Zapata-Cruz remained in Warren County Jail as of Monday, as the others posted bail or were released on their own recognizance.
Attempted second-degree rape and attempted second-degree criminal sexual act are punishable by up to 4 years in state prison.