- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

A Bedford County, Va., sheriff will accept an award today on Capitol Hill given to a law enforcement agency that has gone “above and beyond the call of duty” to protect children using the Internet.

The program was designed by Sheriff Mike Brown in 1998 to attract and catch pedophiles who troll the Internet worldwide for young boys and girls.

Sheriff Brown and other members of a task force known as the Blue Ridge Thunder searched more than 100,000 Web sites, chat rooms and message boards with child-pornography content.

The team focuses on predators called “travelers” because they travel across state lines to have sexual relations with a child.

“Brown’s efforts and the efforts of his staff have been extremely successful in the fight against the exploitation of our children and children around the world,” said Parry Aftab, executive director of Wired Safety, the nonprofit group that gave the award.

Previous recipients of the Wired Cops Award are the U.S. Customs Service, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and Interpol’s Pedophile Unit in Britain.

Sheriff Brown is a retired Treasury Department senior special agent who was named Bedford County’s top law enforcement officer in 1996.

The exploitation of children on the Internet is a vast and growing problem, he said.

“The public just doesn’t realize how bad it is,” he recently told The Washington Times.

Blue Ridge Thunder is one of the nation’s most successful programs targeting sexual predators. The task force has arrested dozens of them in Virginia since 1998 and has a 100 percent conviction rate. Members also have given nearly 1,000 criminal referrals to other jurisdictions nationwide.

The task force, in central Virginia, made headlines in 1999 on arresting a top aide to former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton.

The aide, Tom Rice, then 59, drove to Bedford and was met by a deputy who had been posing as a boy with whom Rice chatted online.

That same year, a North Carolina man known on the Web as “Dr. Evil” drove from Charlottesville to Bedford to meet and have sex with a young girl. He also was met by a deputy who had been posing online as a child. When police arrested the man, identified as Ray Cannup, he had an ax handle, paring knife and duct tape in his truck. Rice and Cannup have been sentenced to prison.

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