11 arrested in online sting

A Henrico County man was among 11 arrested as part of a cyber sting in which Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office investigators posed as underage teenage girls on chat websites.

Most of the men arrested, unaware that they were communicating with undercover officers, thought they were going to have a sexual encounter with a child, the sheriff’s office said.

Those swept up in the operation were arrested between October and earlier this month and were charged with indecent liberties and electronic solicitation of a minor, authorities said. They are:

  • Reginal Linwood Johnson, 64, of Henrico;
  • Stephen Lewis Redford, 27, of Amelia County;
  • Howard Daniel Dowden, 32, of Caroline County;
  • Jon-Paul Patterson Snyder, 31, of Caroline;
  • Mohammed Wail Nuri, 20, of Spotsylvania;
  • Thomas Wayne Petry, 28, of Spotsylvania;
  • Michael Wade Miller, 62, of Spotsylvania;
  • Austin Thomas Fowler, 26, of Stafford County;
  • Michael Allen Silver, 20, no fixed address;
  • Gabriel Allen Hester, 33, of Caroline, who also is facing a charge of felony prostitution; and
  • Colin Wade Clayton, 21, of Spotsylvania, who also was charged with possession of marijuana and driving on a revoked license.

Nine men showed up at locations in Spotsylvania thinking they were picking up a 13-year-old girl and were arrested on site by investigators, Spotsylvania Capt. Elizabeth Scott said in a Tuesday news conference. Two suspects did not show up to predetermined locations where the stings occurred, and investigators sought warrants to pick them up.

The FBI assisted Spotsylvania investigators in arresting Johnson at his Henrico home, said Dee Rybiski, an FBI spokeswoman. He was booked Feb. 7 at the Rappahannock Regional Jail, according to VINELink.

Scott did not identify the other suspect who did not show up at the meeting spot.

Johnson has been working part-time for the last four months as a custodian picking up trash at Richmond's Grove Christian School, said The Rev. Ken Winter, a senior associate pastor at Grove Church. That's a Southern Baptist church in the city's West End that houses the K-12 religious school.

Johnson was employed by a contractor that provides janitorial services for the school, Winter said, adding that the contractor has said Johnson cleared a background check prior to starting work.

The pastor said Johnson typically started work around 4:30 p.m. after classes had already ended, and that the church is not aware of any complaints regarding Johnson and the students.

"To the best of our knowledge, he never had any contact with children or students at Grove," Winter said.

The Spotsylvania operation was paid for using funds awarded by the Virginia State Police. The money pays for overtime, training and equipment, the sheriff’s office said.

“I think we could probably continue doing this and make 11 more arrests,” Scott said. “And I know that doesn’t sit well with parents at home, but that’s why it’s incredibly important to know what sites your children are going onto and whom they’re talking to.”

sgorman@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6885

Staff writer Bryan DeVasher contributed to this report.

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