SBI: Operation Winter Guardian nets 16 alleged child predators, including three from ENC

GASTONIA, N.C. (WITN) – A statewide task force made up of 61 regional task forces has netted 16 people who are suspected of being child predators, including three from Eastern North Carolina.

Known as ‘Operation Winter Guardian,’ the SBI says the two-part initiative by the North Carolina Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force that took place from January 8th through January 12th.

Agents said that during the first part of the operation, investigators worked undercover in internet chat rooms talking to people they said were looking for children to meet them for sexual activity.

Agents say that some of the people they chatted with went to a location that agents had set up in Gaston County to meet the person they believed to be a child that they had met online and arranged to meet for sex.

In the second part of the operation, agents said that investigators executed several search warrants across the state that they believed were distributing child pornography.

“In a time when we are seeing a record number of CyberTip reports from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, it is imperative that we continue to conduct proactive investigations like these,” said Kevin Roughton, NCICAC Commander and SBI Special Agent in Charge. “The cases in this operation had not been reported to anyone. Without the joint effort of our local and federal partner agencies, these offenders could still be engaging in the same criminal acts today; but even more importantly, the children who were safeguarded would likely continue to be victimized again and again without anyone knowing and no one coming to help them.”

Agents say that 16 people were arrested across the state, including three from ENC including 21-year-old Hunter Fesperman of Hertford. Fesperman was charged with four counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

Also arrested were 36-year-old Jubonte Stevenson of New Bern and 36-year-old Johnathan McCall of Swansboro.

Stevenson was charged with first-degree statutory sex offense and McCall was charged with ten counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and ten counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.

Agents said that at least five children were removed from ongoing sexual abuse.