Former Georgia Youth Softball Umpire Pleads Guilty In Child Sexual Exploitation Case
MACON, Ga.— A former youth softball umpire arrested during “Operation End Game,” a multi-agency effort targeting and arresting adult perpetrators seeking sex with children, entered a guilty plea in federal court this morning, said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. James Hughes Morriss, 50, of Dacula, Georgia entered a guilty plea before Judge C. Ashley Royal in U.S. District Court to one count of use of facilities in interstate and foreign commerce to transmit information about a minor. Defendant Morriss is currently in federal custody and faces a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and at least three years supervised release. Sentencing is scheduled for February 12, 2020. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Law enforcement’s effort to end child sexual exploitation in Georgia is unceasing, and is happening at every level. We are working with our law enforcement partners to investigate and arrest adults seeking to sexually abuse children, and we will prosecute these offenders to the fullest extent allowed by law,” said U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler. “I want to commend the leadership of the GBI in this coordinated effort to end crimes against children, as well as the FBI and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, both of which are invaluable partners in Operation End Game. This operation is a perfect example of what federal, state and local law enforcement can accomplish when we all come together.”
“Operation End Game did exactly what it was tasked to do: Put an end to criminal attempts of predators to irreversibly harm young children,” said Debbie Garner, GBI Special Agent in Charge and Commander of the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. “The GBI and the Georgia ICAC Task Force will work tirelessly with our partners to protect our children against those who seek to harm them.”
“The ACCPD is proud to partner with the FBI, GBI and other federal, state and local area law enforcement agencies in these continuing efforts to identify and apprehend those who prey on our most vulnerable victims,” said Athens-Clarke County Police Department (ACCPD) Chief Cleveland Spruill. “Thanks to this coordinated three-day effort, multiple predators have been removed from our streets and are no longer free to victimize our children.”
“This case is an example of the importance of our law enforcement partnerships in our efforts to rid our communities of those who would choose to do harm to the most vulnerable in our society,” said Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, Chris Hacker. “Those who prey on our children must be held accountable to send a message that this behavior will not be tolerated.”
“Operation End Game” was a three-day proactive effort centered in Athens, Georgia beginning July 25, 2019 to arrest adults communicating with children on-line and then traveling to meet them for the purpose of having sex. On July 26, 2019, an undercover officer communicating with perpetrators online under a profile named “Lizzie” with a photo of a young girl, received notification in the mobile application Skout from an individual later identified as Defendant Morriss. Within the first few exchanges, Defendant Morriss, who was 49 at the time, asked “Lizzie” her age and was told she was only 14-years-old and attended a school in Georgia. Defendant Morriss, familiar with many schools in Georgia due to his work around the state as a youth softball umpire, recognized the named school. Defendant Morris initiated a sexually explicit discussion and suggested an in-person meeting with the child; he also requested and received photos of the purported 14-year-old. Morriss then traveled to meet the 14-year-old child in Athens for sexual purposes, and was arrested at the designated meeting place shortly after midnight on July 27, 2019.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), the Athens-Clarke County Police Department (ACCPD), the FBI and the Athens-Clarke County District Attorney’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lyndie Freeman is prosecuting the case for the Government. Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.