By JOSH NEWTON
A Cherokee County man is behind bars after allegedly arranging a sexual encounter with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl.
As it turns out, Stephen Joe Nelson, 20, of Keys, had been communicating for several weeks with a Tahlequah police detective. Amid hundreds of Facebook and text messages, Nelson allegedly said he wanted to have an overnight stay with the so-called “girl,” and agreed to a meeting Friday morning.
When he arrived at the arranged location in Tahlequah, Nelson approached the home’s back door, where he was met by police, interviewed, and eventually arrested on charges of soliciting sexual conduct, contact or communication with a minor through use of technology.
Detective Thomas Donnell said the investigation began when he received information that Nelson was involved in activities, including parties, with underage girls. Donnell used a Facebook account – created to monitor suspected sexual predators – to “friend” Nelson on the social-networking site.
Donnell said Nelson thought the account belonged to a teen girl, and quickly tried to begin an online relationship with her. Police said they couldn’t comment on specific details of Nelson’s messages, but that they eventually carried over into text messages and were sexually explicit.
Nelson was persistent in his attempts to build a relationship with the “girl,” police said. Donnell eventually had to enlist assistance from Help-In-Crisis to keep up with Nelson’s alleged advancements through text messages.
“It was a 24-hours-a-day deal,” said Donnell. “It was constant texting from him.”
Tahlequah Police Department Public Information Officer Brad Robertson said Nelson began to put pressure on Donnell for a face-to-face meeting. Donnell set up the meeting with Nelson, and established Nelson both knew the age of the girl he was trying to meet, and that it was a crime to be sexually involved with a minor.
Nelson allegedly described in detail the vehicle he would be driving, what time he would be at the local meeting spot, and several items he would have with him. Police said his descriptions held up and helped them identify Nelson as the suspect.
Donnell said this case is different from others he’s worked because of Nelson’s alleged persistence and willingness to quickly establish a face-to-face meeting.
Police will continue to use online resources, including decoy accounts on social networks, to track suspected predators, Donnell said.
Tahlequah Police Chief Clay Mahaney said cyber-crimes are increasingly common.
“We’re getting more and more reports of cyber-crimes and online predators,” said Mahaney. “We’re proud of the work done on this case, and that an arrest has been made. We will continue to pursue charges against those who threaten the safety of our children and the public in general.”
Parents should be vigilant, Donnell said, in monitoring their children’s online accounts and text messages for questionable interactions. Tahlequah parents who are concerned their children might be involved in inappropriate relationships, or others who want to report possible cases of sexual exploitation, can call (918) 456-8801 and speak to Donnell.
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