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Fort Benning soldier among 3 suspects in court on sexual exploitation charges

A Fort Benning soldier and two others facing sexual exploitation charges appeared in Recorder’s Court Tuesday, more than a week after 21 people were nabbed in “Operation Hidden Guardian.”

Derrick Smalls, a 38-year-old Fort Benning soldier from Phenix City, was charged with sexual exploitation of children while Austin Pierce, 26, of Phenix City and Ke Song, 24, of Auburn, Ala., each faces one count of sexual exploitation of children and trafficking a person for labor or sexual sacrifice.

Smalls, who didn’t have an attorney, waived his court hearing. Judge Julius Hunter set bond at $25,000 and the charge was bound over to Superior Court.

Pierce and Song each pleaded not guilty to the charges in separate hearings. Bond was set at $80,000 for Song and $70,000 for Pierce before all charges were bound over to Superior Court.

Columbus police Sgt. John Bailey of the Special Victims Unit said the three cases were made Nov. 9-13 in Columbus. An undercover officer engaged in an online conversation with Song on a social media site. The phone conversations and text messages were recorded when the suspect offered $100 for 30 minutes with a 14-year-old girl. Bailey said Song responded to an ad in the Back Page.

Song, a Chinese national who attends Auburn University, was arrested at a location in Columbus but it wasn’t identified in court.

During the hearing, an interpreter was available to explain the court proceedings to Song while his attorney questioned the police detective on the charges. His attorney also requested a lower bond.

Bailey testified that Pierce was on a social media site when he asked to meet a girl for sex. He was directed to a location but the girl had left. Pierce was then directed to a second location in Columbus.

Pierce arrived at the second location but never met the person before he drove away. He was taken into custody as he left, Bailey said. A phone belonging to Pierce was seized by police.

Owen Lynch, the public defender representing Pierce, sought a reduction in bond for Pierce who was already free on bond for a peeping tom charge in January.

Hunter said the court is concerned about the previous case before setting bond at $35,000 on both charges.

The online undercover operation was centered in Columbus and coordinated by the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit, the Columbus Police Department, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia.

In addition to Columbus police, 12 other law enforcement agencies took part in “Operation Hidden Guardian,” as part of the Georgia ICAC Task Force. They included the local Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, Athens-Clarke County Police Department; Floyd County Police Department; Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office; Hall County Sheriff’s Office; Georgia Information Sharing and Analysis Center; Glynn County Police Department; LaGrange Police Department; Marietta Police Department; Polk County Police Department and the Tallapoosa Police Department.

Ben Wright: 706-571-8576, @bfwright87

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©2017 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)

Visit the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.) at www.ledger-enquirer.com

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