A South Carolina sheriff’s deputy was arrested for allegedly arranging to meet with an underage girl for sex in an undercover operation — a sting set up by his own department.
Richland County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Vandenham, 34, was immediately fired from the department following his arrest, ABC 15 News reports.
The sting dubbed Operation Relentless Guardian started August 9 and lasted for five days. Vandenham was communicating to have sex with a 15-year-old girl and he then showed up at a property where officers were waiting to arrest him.
Vandenham was working, on duty, in his patrol car, and in his uniform when he was communicating to have sex with the 15-year-old girl.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, and numerous other departments used undercover deputies posing as minors that communicated with suspects through Internet chat rooms and websites. The undercovers had a location they were directing the suspects to visit.
The sting was meant to catch predators who use social media and online chat rooms to arrange to meet up with minors or prostitutes for sex.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says:
“One of the most disgusting things that I’ve been having to deal with is to have a deputy do something like this. But we’ve got monsters that live in our community and they prey on our children and our job is to protect our children.”
The sex sting also led to the arrest of former South Carolina transportation commissioner John Hardee, who allegedly arranged a meeting with an undercover agent to have sex with an adult prostitute.
Five people, including Vandenham, were arrested after traveling to the arranged meeting spot set up by undercover law enforcement. Nine others have warrants out for their arrests.
Some of the suspects even sent nude photos to the undercover officers and deputies.
Vandenham was charged with soliciting a minor and attempted criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Judge Mildred Rita Metts gave Vandenham a $10,000 bond for the solicitation charge and stipulated he have no internet access except for work or school, no social media use and no unsupervised contact with minors, according to court records. He also will have to wear a tracking device.