Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
PROVO — Police in Utah County have arrested seven men in less than two weeks, all accused of engaging in explicit online conversations and trying to meet teenage girls for sex.
Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said Friday the arrests — five on Feb. 26, one on Feb. 27 and one on Wednesday — were not part of a sting, but that multiple, separate investigations by the county's Special Victim's Task Force all happened to culminate at once.
The wave of arrests illustrates the fact that cases like these are being constantly investigated in all kinds of communities, Cannon said. He hopes that the seven cases represent seven children who were spared being victimized.
"The undercover detectives who are investigating these cases, they're trying to get ahead of it and get people who would otherwise possibly be making contact with a real-life 13-year-old girl or boy, and get them before they accomplish what they believe they are setting out to do," Cannon said.
While the number of arrests isn't unusual for the task force, Cannon said, the time frame is.
The men arrested in the past two weeks include: Chet Joseph Kanzee, 21, from Springville; Carlos Abel Quinteros, 36, from West Valley City; Kenneth Scott Lawrence, 52, from Clearfield; Jerry Kenneth Personette, 35, from Clearfield; Cory Albert Lamb, 26, from Salt Lake City; Christopher Daniel Winger, 26, from Sandy; and Jeremy Cardon, 27, from Provo.
Conversations between investigators and some of the men played out over several weeks before the arrests, police said. Kanzee allegedly began talking to an undercover detective, asked to meet that day and was arrested when he arrived, according to police.
According to affidavits filed in 4th District Court, six of the men — all but Cardon — initiated conversations online or through apps with individuals they believed were 13-year-old girls. All six brought up sex during the conversations, acknowledged they knew they were talking to someone they believed was underage and described sex acts they wanted to engage in.
Criminal charges have been filed against the six men.
Five of the men — Kanzee, Quinteros, Lawrence, Personette and Lamb — asked for nude photos of the supposed teen, and three — Lawrence, Personette and Lamb — sent back photos of themselves, according to the affidavits.
While Kanzee, Lawrence and Winger all asked to meet with the teen for sex, only Kanzee showed up, the affidavits state. Winger asked for two meetings, canceling the first and claiming he had arrived for the second, though he was never seen by officers surveilling the area, according to the affidavit.
Police noted that Lawrence told officers he had recently stopped taking medication for anxiety and depression. Winger said he had turned to the chats as an "outlet" to marital problems he was experiencing. Lamb had no prior criminal history.
In Cardon's case, police said the man believed he was responding to an online ad placed by a father about his daughter. The affidavit does not elaborate on what the post had advertised. Cardon allegedly said he wanted to meet the daughter, and was given a number he believed the father was providing for the girl, then began a sexual conversation using that number.
Police said Cardon asked for several meetings, backing out of all of them.
Cardon was arrested Wednesday. Criminal charges have not been filed in the case.
Before undercover officers can arrange to meet with someone being investigated for attempting to solicit a juvenile online, Cannon said law enforcement must identify the individual and undergo intensive preparations to ensure the operation is done legally.
For example, a meeting place and time must be selected where bystanders will be out of the way, out of concern the individual could flee and potentially harm someone they encounter on the way, and where officers can respond in case the suspect attempts to harm himself or herself, Cannon explained.
When Kanzee was arrested, for example, officers found a handgun hidden in his waistband, the affidavit states. Kanzee does not hold a concealed carry permit, according to police.
Kanzee told officers he had been dealing with suicidal thoughts for five years and "brought the gun specifically to kill himself if the police came, or make them do it for him," according to the affidavit.
Cannon noted that it is uncommon for officers to encounter armed individuals intending to harm themselves during these arrests, but it does happen.
Cannon hopes that seeing cases like these reported in the news also keeps others who are considering seeking out children online from acting on those ideas.
"We want people to not behave this way. First of all, because it's the right thing to do, but if that's not good enough to motivate them, maybe the fear of being caught will."