Complaint filed in federal court accuses man of traveling to St. George to have sex with 13-year-old

2019 file photo of of 5th District Court where federal hearings are held, St. George, Utah, August, 2019 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A complaint was filed in federal court accusing a Las Vegas man of traveling to Utah to have sex with a 13-year-old girl. The man was arrested during a multi-day sting operation that took place in September 2020.

Jacob Heaton Rogers, 34, of Las Vegas, Nev., booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Feb. 16, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the Washington County Attorney’s Office, St. George News

A criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday filed against 34-year-old Jacob Heaton Rogers was scheduled to go before a grand jury in Salt Lake City on Thursday to determine if there is enough evidence to federally indict the defendant on one count of  interstate travel with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office decided to pick up the case once the crime became a federal offense when the suspect allegedly crossed state lines, which Rogers allegedly did by traveling from his home in Las Vegas to St. George, where he expected to meet a juvenile — but instead was met by undercover agents and arrested.

On Tuesday, Rogers traveled from his home in Nevada to Washington County and was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility once the complaint was filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He self-surrendered on the advice of his attorney, Dixie State Police Chief Blair Barfuss, who is also cross-deputized to work with the FBI, told St. George News.

The four day sting operation ran from Aug. 31, 2020 to Sept. 3, 2020 and was set in motion when authorities were alerted to an ad found on Craigslist in which an individual posted a message implying that time could be spent with a child and asking those interested to respond via email, an ad that was flagged for removal shortly thereafter.

Barfuss, who helped spearhead the undercover operation, said in September there were at least eight calls to police from concerned individuals reporting the troubling advertisement – one that also garnered more than 135 responses from people seeking information and those who were soliciting the services being advertised.

The high number of responses was a clear indication of a problem that would require additional resources, he said, which is when local and federal officers were brought in to assist.

2020 file photo of Jacob Heaton Rogers, 33, of Las Vegas, Nev., booking photo taken in Washington County, Utah, Sept. 1, 2020 | Photos courtesy of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, St. George News

Rogers was one of six men arrested on the second day of the sting and was originally charged with a second-degree felony count of enticing a minor and a third-degree felony for dealing in materials harmful to a minor by the Washington County Attorney’s Office. After spending 10 days in jail, Rogers was released Sept. 11, 2020.

On Tuesday Rogers was scheduled to appear in 5th District Court before Judge Eric Ludlow on the state charges that are still pending with the courts. If the suspect is indicted in federal court, then the state charges will be dismissed.

During the sting, task force agents posing as a 13-year-old girl worked undercover on websites frequented by individuals who have a sexual interest in children to target online sexual predators.

It was through this forum that agents came across Rogers who was allegedly communicating with what he believed were two juveniles in Utah, ages 13 and 14, who were actually decoys, according to the federal complaint drafted by Dixie State Police Capt. Ronald Bridge. Bridge is also assigned to the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force and worked during the sting operation last year.

The complaint also alleges the suspect sent lewd photos and went into graphic detail discussing the various sex acts that would be performed when he met the 13-year-old girl, a meeting that was arranged by Rogers who agreed to drive from his home in Las Vegas to a park in St. George where he was to pick the teen up on Sept. 1, 2020

On the day of the meeting, task force members had surveillance set up at the prearranged location and were looking for the white Ford Focus the suspect told the decoy he was driving. When Rogers arrived, he was taken into custody by agents.

Inside of the car, agents found the suspect’s cell phone with the social media app he used to communicate with the girl open on the screen along with a laptop computer that was also seized by police.

During an interview, the suspect allegedly admitted to communicating with both girls in Utah, ages 13 and 14, and had planned to meet up with whoever agreed to meet with him first. The complaint also states that Rogers told investigators that he planned to have sex with the juvenile if she showed up.

Rogers is scheduled to appear in federal court in St. George before Magistrate Judge Paul Kohler for a detention hearing on Monday, and he remains in jail under the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders 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.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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