It's called Operation Black Veil, and Sunday night you got an exclusive look inside what investigators say is the largest undercover operation of its kind.
Sixteen men were arrested statewide. Investigators say they were trying to have sex with a child. Eight of those arrests were in Northeast Wisconsin.
Of those, four men are charged in Brown County. Charges range from using a computer to facilitate a sex crime to child enticement. A fifth is expected to be charged Wednesday.
Two other men face charges in Outagamie County and one in Shawano County.
More than 100 officers from local, state, and federal agencies participated in the sting.
For three days Sarah Thomsen was granted exclusive access to Operation Black Veil so that we can show you what's really happening online and the dangers our children face.
For three days we were with investigators as they chatted online with more than 500 people. The chats were graphic and explicit -- but it's when people take to the next step and agree to meet a child for sex that concerns investigators.
And what happened during the arrests was unnerving for all of us.
From the moment "Operation Black Veil" began at 8 o'clock Tuesday morning, everything moved fast.
Their first ad posted to Craigslist at 8:24 a.m. saying "While there mommas away... daughters are ready to play with you... Be the first for these little people."
Within minutes, responses filled their computers.
"There's a lot of people that prey on the children that are home schooled or are troubled and they're not in school, that don't have a lot of family direction. Those are preyed on regularly," Door County Deputy Troy Montevideo said.
Less than an hour goes by, and a Madison man is on the phone with investigators to set up a time and place to meet a child.
"So you want to make it happen?" Montevideo asks him.
"We initially had 14, I believe, people interested, and we're currently working with them now, hour-and-a-half into it," Door County Investigator Jim Valley said.
For three days, investigators were flooded with so many responses for people wanting to meet a child -- 8 to 15 years old -- for sex, they can't keep up.
"Tell Green Bay I think I got one," Sergeant Carl Waterstreet with the Sturgeon Bay Police Department told the team. He read a post, "Yes, I would. Where would you like to meet?"
In almost every case, people wanted to meet in just minutes.
"He says he's at a doctor's appointment. They seem to feel he's stalling," Sergeant Chris Amraen, Brown County Sheriff's Department, said.
We were with Brown County investigators when a call came in at 4:30 Wednesday afternoon.
"What he wants is to meet with the undercover for sex with a ten-year-old girl," Amraen explains. "The arrangement would be the undercover would drive, he would be in the back seat with the ten-year-old girl. That's what he wants. Forty dollars in the price they've agreed on."
Brown County Sheriff's Department investigators move quickly to put surveillance teams in place before their suspect arrives.
They only know to expect the unexpected.
"So as you observed, as well as us, that they case the area by driving around several times to see if they can see anything out of the ordinary," Captain Dave Konrath, Brown County Sheriff's Department, said.
After driving around the meet location several times, we see 27-year-old William Ward stop at a business across the street.
In seconds, a dozen county and state agents swarm the area and arrest him.
With Ward in handcuffs, they search him and make their first discovery.
"He was armed."
Investigators say he had a loaded handgun in his pocket and had a permit to carry.
"You definitely don't take a weapon with you when you're expected to have relations with a child," Konrath said.
Investigators say they also found seven knives and what they call "survivalist" gear -- equipment often used for camping or hunting -- in his vehicle.
"So there's some elements of this that make the hair on the back of your neck raise up," said Konrath.
All week, investigators allow us to see Operation Black Veil from the inside to make parents aware of the kinds of dangers their children could be exposed to in just minutes online.
"It's surprising the number of people that were taken down during this whole operation," Amraen said, "but then, it lives you still to believe what else is out there?"
It's broad daylight in the middle of the week, and still we're seeing these people are willing to meet children for sex.
Day three, at 11:18 a.m., and investigators are rushing in to arrest another suspect. This time it's 65-year-old Michael Wenzel.
Investigators say Wenzel told them he thought he was meeting a 15-year-old for sex. It was investigators in Door County he was talking to the whole time.
"When they take that step for the physical meeting, that's when it becomes problematic," Brown County Sheriff John Gossage said.
We asked investigators throughout the operation if they were surprised by the results. Most said, sadly, no. Now they're hoping the public understands just what's out there.
"We're going to be monitoring you guys, and any time that you get on the Internet and try to entice one of these children over, you're risking getting caught," Door County Sheriff Terry Vogel said.
Of the people arrested in our area, none has a criminal history relating to child sex crimes.
After seeing the overwhelming amount of chats in this three-day sting, you can see the manpower it takes to find and arrest these people.
Tuesday on Action 2 News at Five, we look at the resources it takes statewide to ensure your children are safe.
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