Columbia man arrested in Beaufort sting targeting internet sex crimes against children

A Columbia, South Carolina, man is the latest arrest in a multi-agency sting operation in search of predators who target underage children, according to the Beaufort Police Department.

Tony Hoover, 54, was charged Tuesday night with criminal solicitation of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor in the first degree and disseminating obscene material to a minor, jail records show.

The charges stem from an online conversation that occurred in March. Messaging with a person who Hoover thought to be a 14-year-old girl, Hoover sent and asked for sexually explicit photos, according to Lt. Charles Raley, a spokesperson for the Beaufort Police Department.

But Hoover was actually messaging with an undercover police officer, as a part of “Operation Rock the Boat,” a joint effort between local law enforcement agencies and the Attorney General’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

The operation involved undercover police officers posing as children online, leading multiple individuals to have explicit conversations with people they believed to be minors.

As part of the operation, four people traveled to Beaufort with the intent of having sex with minors between the ages of 12 and 14, according to previous reporting from the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette.

Hoover was released Wednesday morning from the Beaufort County Detention Center on a $20,000 bond.

When we publish mugshots

The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette publishes police booking photos, or mugshots, in the following instances:

  • In situations where a public figure or someone in a position of public trust is arrested
  • In cases where there is an immediate and widespread threat to public safety
  • In cases where the arrested person is accused of a crime reporters have evidence to believe involved numerous, unknown victims

Reporters will avoid using mugshots as lead images for online articles in order to limit their circulation on social media, except in cases where the public is served by the immediate identification of the accused. Reporters and editors may use discretion in situations that don’t meet the criteria outlined in this policy but still present a compelling reason to publish a mugshot.

Evan McKenna is a breaking news reporter for The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette. A Tennessee native and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he reports on crime and safety in Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort.

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