Three men arrested after child exploitation operation in Morgantown

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MORGANTOWN, W.VA. (WDTV)-- Three men have been arrested on charges of soliciting a minor via a computer, after a child exploitation operation.

This was the first time The Monongalia County Sheriff's Office assisted in a child exploitation case.

58-year-old Christopher Dignan, 26-year-old Christopher Eldridge and 29-year-old Erik Layhue were charged after soliciting a minor on various computer programs.

"We conduct an operation where profiles were created of 15-year-old children. Men were soliciting these individuals online. Mostly soliciting for sex," said Detective Jonathan Friend with the Monongalia County Sheriff's Office.

According to a press release, the operation took place between April 11th and April 15th.

Law enforcement officers from various departments make up the West Virginia Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force.

Detectives from the sheriff's office helped set up a location to meet the men and arrest them.

"We had a location set up where we planned to meet these individuals. We tried to do it in a secluded location where there's no danger to other people," said Friend.

Friend says each profile was different and several websites were used in the operation. Both Layhue and Dignan came to Morgantown from out-of-state to engage in sexual contact with who they thought was going to be a 15-year-old girl.

"The Sheriff's Office is involved in the West Virginia State Police's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, so we're constantly working on child pornography cases. This is the first time we've been involved in a child exploitation case in order to try to combat child exploitation," said Friend.

Friend says these 'predators' will travel from anywhere because they're determined.

"If they are motivated and want to actually meet a child online and engage in these kinds of acts they will come from wherever to try to meet them."

He says people need to safe-guard their children on all types of social media accounts and websites.

"A lot of times people want to become friends with just anybody online, but you definitely need to only try to friend people you've actually met before."

All three men could face 2-10 years in jail if convicted.