Mesa County probe targets chat rooms |

Mesa County probe targets chat rooms

Paul Shockley
Grand Junction correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GRAND JUNCTION ” More than 10 people face criminal charges in an Internet chat room-sex sting conducted in part by the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office, DA Pete Hautzinger confirmed Wednesday.

John Larue Merritt, 24, of Grand Junction, was arrested last week on a warrant related to the investigation.

Merritt, who released that same day on $25,000 bond, was arrested on suspicion of two counts of child enticement, sexual assault on a child with no force and obscenity wholesale promotion ” all felonies.

He’s scheduled to appear in court April 10 for formal filing of the charges.

An affidavit in support of Merritt’s arrest warrant was still sealed in District Judge Richard Gurley’s division late Wednesday.

The DA’s office is expected to file criminal charges against additional individuals.

The multi-agency law enforcement investigation is expected to snare others, from Mesa County and beyond, on sex-related charges.

“The majority of these people are from around the state and country,” Hautzinger said.

The probe started late in the week of March 6. Operating the sting out of Mesa County, law enforcement officers posed as juveniles engaged conversations in Internet chat rooms. Over the course of five consecutive nights, law enforcement targeted men and women soliciting sexual encounters with juveniles.

A news release Wednesday afternoon from Mesa County spokeswoman Jessica Peterson said authorities involved in the ongoing investigation will host a press conference Thursday at the Mesa County Justice Center.

The Mesa County DA’s Office, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Colorado State Patrol, Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, Grand Junction Police Department and the Fruita Police Department were involved in the probe.

The number of arrests to date, or outstanding arrest warrants, wasn’t immediately clear. Prosecutors filed motions Wednesday to unseal arrest warrants related to the investigation.

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