Suspect nabbed thanks to undercover work; Cooper pushing for change in law so that NC officers can go undercover to catch more predators
New Bern: The State Bureau of Investigation today arrested a New Bern man on felony charges of taking indecent liberties with children and use of communications medium to solicit a child. Gary Lee Beard, a 51-year-old white male of New Bern, is being held in Craven County on $1 million bond pending extradition to Virginia.
Beard was arrested as the result of an undercover operation carried out by the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force in Virginia and North Carolina. According to the SBI, Beard sent pornographic pictures and video of himself to a Virginia undercover officer who was posing as a 12-year-old girl.
Under Virginia law, predators who solicit an undercover officer posing as a child face felony charges. Under the current North Carolina law, a predator who solicits an officer posing as a minor can only be charged with a misdemeanor. Attorney General Roy Cooper is pushing to change that law so that law enforcement in North Carolina can go undercover to catch more Internet predators.
“Cases like this show how effective undercover work can be in catching predators who cruise the Internet looking for victims,” said Cooper. “We need to pass this law so we can give officers here in North Carolina every tool they need to go after these online predators.”
Cooper backs a bill introduced by Senator Scott Thomas that would make it a felony for a predator to solicit anyone, including an undercover officer, he or she believes to be a child. The Senate unanimously approved the measure last week and must now earn House approval.
“This case reinforces the need to toughen the internet predator laws in our state,” said Senator Thomas. “We must continuously work to be sure our laws are updated to keep up with advances in technology. I am pleased that our bill has passed the Senate and look forward to its passage in the House as soon as possible."
To help local law enforcement track Internet predators who try to exploit children, Cooper is also asking legislators to expand the SBI Computer Crimes Unit that he helped create by adding four new field agents. The agents would partner with the ICAC Task Force, a nationwide network of law enforcement agencies and prosecutors dedicated to protecting children from online dangers. In addition, Cooper is seeking three more computer forensic experts to recover and analyze information from computers submitted to the SBI Crime Lab.
The case against Beard was investigated jointly by the NC ICAC, a part of the NC Department of Justice, and the Northern Virginia ICAC, a part of the Virginia State Police. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Craven County Sheriff’s Department assisted in the case.