COVINGTON - A 28-year-old soldier who has recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq was arrested Sunday afternoon by the Newton County Sheriff's Office and charged with multiple offenses after he allegedly carried on a sexually-charged Internet relationship with who he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. In reality, he was communicating with an anonymous undercover NCSO investigator.
Andrew David Craig, 28, of 2 Durham Court, Apt. D, Fort Benning, was charged with four felony counts, including sexual exploitation of children, electronically furnishing obscene material to minors, violation of the Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Act of 2007 and obscene telephone contact with a child.
According to NCSO spokesman Investigator Sharron Stewart, the undercover officer was first contacted by Craig in March while he was serving in Iraq.
"We did an undercover investigation with Internet Crimes Against Children, and during the course of the investigation, he (Craig) showed his genitals on Web cam and transmitted several pornographic Web sites to a person he believed to be a 13-year-old female. He also had a sexually-explicit phone conversation with the person he believed to be the 13-year-old female," Stewart said, adding that the suspect had mentioned meeting up with the girl, as well.
Stewart said investigators went to the soldier's home on the army base to arrest him. He is a private 1st class and worked as a medic specialist. He is married and has a 4-year-old son and had returned to the base from Iraq on May 10.
At the time of his arrest, Stewart said he showed very little emotion.
"I think of all the arrests I've made on these kinds of cases, this one bothered me the most. Here's a guy active in the service, a soldier who had just come home from Iraq. I feel sorry for his family ... their son's in the military, off in Iraq, and they have to worry about him all the time, they're proud of him and then he comes home and they're glad he made it back and then to have this happen," she said. "But then I think if it hadn't been our undercover officer, it might have been a real 13-year-old, and I'm glad we got him."
Craig was being held Monday at Newton County Detention Center on a $20,000 property bond.
Stewart said the U.S. Army assisted them in their investigation, as well as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Craig's personal computer was seized and will go to the GBI for a forensic examination. Stewart said she was not sure if the Army would pursue additional charges against Craig, but they might, as when he was in Iraq, he used one of their computers that was available to all soldiers.
"Where that computer is now, we don't know, but we have the same evidence on his computer," she said.
Stewart said these types of investigations are time-consuming and although the NCSO is dedicated to doing as much of it as possible, investigators can only devote a fraction of their time to it.
"Obviously, crimes against persons that come in to us have to take priority over this," she said. "But if we could devote someone to it full-time, there's no telling how many arrests we'd make."
Stewart said when an undercover officer goes to an Internet chat room and enters an e-mail address, he is immediately swamped with others wanting to chat.
"As soon as you get on the site, people are hitting you up left and right," she said. She said the first thing they want to know is "ASL," which means age, sex and location. "Out of 10, there might be one after learning that someone is 13 who might say, 'Oh, sorry. You're too young.'"
She said the average age of the men who want to talk to the teens is 25 or older.
Stewart said after observing the outcome of these investigations, she stringently urges parents to keep tight control on their children's computer activities.
"Absolutely keep them away from chat rooms (MySpace, Facebook, Yearbook). Never let your kids have a computer in their bedroom. Always keep it somewhere out in the open - in the living room or kitchen where you can always monitor it," she said. "And I'd set a time limit on how long they can be on it."
She said she would like to see the school system take a more active role in computer education.
"I think they should have a class in school during the middle school years on computer safety. They have driver's safety. Why not a computer safety class?" she said.
Barbara Knowles can be reached at email@example.com.