6 arrested in St. George sting operation involving child sexual exploitation, enticement

Stock image | Photo by Chalabala/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — An online sting operation conducted last week by federal agents with assistance from Dixie State University campus police resulted in the arrest of six men in and around St. George.

Two of the men, 43-year-old Larry Dale Harris Jr. and 33-year-old Michael Anthony Lerat, were charged with several second-degree felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.

Five of the men were each charged with one third-degree felony count of enticing a minor by internet or text, including Harris; Robert Dajdl Hardy, 24; Robert Anthony Johnson, 18; Kyle Brey Shorr, 35; and John Russell Potter, 39.

While DSU police assisted with the arrests, none of the men involved are students at the university.

The sting operation was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday over social media platforms and dating websites.

“Dixie State police worked in conjunction with the FBI and their child exploitation task force and with homeland security investigations on an online chatting operation,” DSU Department of Public Safety Chief Blair Barfuss told St. George News.

“On the two days that we helped with that, five individuals were arrested for the chatting and then Michael Lerat distributed child pornography through online means,” Barfuss said.

In the case of Lerat, officers obtained a search warrant for his Washington City residence where a forensic investigation allegedly found multiple images of child pornography depicting prepubescent girls on an electronic device owned by Lerat.

According to the probable cause statement written in support of his arrest, Lerat “admitted post Miranda to being the individual responsible for distribution of child pornography through known social media platforms.”

L-R: 43-year-old Larry Dale Harris Jr. and 33-year-old Michael Anthony Lerat, booking photos posted in Washington County, Utah March 6-7, 2019. Of six men arrested and charged in a sting operation in St. George, Harris and Lerat face the most serious allegations, including possession of child pornography. | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Barfuss said Harris was also found to be in possession of “many” files of child pornography on his cellphone when he showed up at a location in St. George believing to be meeting a child he had been chatting with for sexual activity.

The other four men — Johnson, Hardy, Shorr and Potter — all showed up at various locations in St. George where they thought they would be meeting children age 12-13 for sexual acts, Barfuss said.

When the men arrived at the designated locations, the arrests were all performed by DSU officers under the direction of Barfuss, who is cross-deputized to work with the FBI.

“That’s why they asked us to host a brief, two-day operation,” Barfuss explained, referring to the federal task force. “And we used our officers with Dixie State to just book the individuals into jail and do the transports.”

Johnson, Hardy, Shorr and Potter all posted bail Wednesday and were released from Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane.

Harris and Lerat, who face the most serious accusations, remain in jail as of Monday evening.

DSU police are working with the Washington County Attorney’s Office and federal attorneys to screen the charges.

“Some of those state charges might turn federal on the more egregious stuff,” Barfuss said.

This report is based on preliminary information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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