Online sting leads to indictment

Evans man faces attempted enticement of a minor charge

An Evans man has been indicted by a federal grand jury amid allegations he tried to arrange a sexual encounter with a girl he believed to be 14 years old.

Ernest Harvey Shepherd, 58, was indicted this week on charges of attempted online enticement of a minor.

Parents of a 16-year-old alerted investigators in May of "questionable online communications" on Facebook between Shepherd and their daughter.

According to a criminal complaint filed May 26 in U.S. District Court, Shepherd met the minor through his work as an official at local swim meets and began communicating with her in January.

Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Mark Dobbins recognized the flattery used in Facebook comments by Shepherd as "grooming" -- a method sexual predators use to gain a child's trust to develop a sexual relationship, according to the complaint.

Investigators began an undercover operation by posing online as a 14-year-old girl who had a history of prior sexual interactions with older men.

Online communication began May 12 and immediately became sexual in nature. Within two hours of their online introduction, Shepherd asked permission to sext, or engage in an online sex chat.

Less than a week later, Shepherd admitted to having kissed a 13- to 14-year-old a couple of years ago.

By May 16, he began expressing his immediate desire to see the girl in person, but shared his concern about them being seen together, according to the court document.

Later, he suggested "skinny dipping and lunch" and offered to bring wine coolers when they met.

At one point he sent a message that read: "I am a terrible person, preying on young girls like u. a dirty old man. I hv corrupted u!"

On May 24, he messaged his intentions to take the girl to eat Mexican food and then to a specific room at an Econo Lodge.

Federal charges were brought against Shepherd on May 27. Authorities would not release specific details on the location of his arrest or where he is currently incarcerated.

Investigators are asking parents to speak with their children to see whether they have had any contact with Shepherd.

"If (parents) have received any inappropriate communication or if this guy is giving a child more attention than normal, do not handle this in-house. Contact law enforcement," Dobbins said.

The undercover operation was a joint investigation conducted by sheriff offices in Richmond and Columbia counties, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.