EDGERTON (WKOW) — Friday marks a year since Edgerton-based “Worldwide Predator Hunters” launched. The group conducts sting operations posing as teenagers to catfish potential online predators before confronting them on Facebook Live.
A year later, the group’s tactics have led to few arrests and even fewer charges but founder Jay Pretty said he’s proud of the work they’ve done.
“We’ve got quite a few sex offenders off the streets,” he said. “I say we’ve done about 20 good busts.”
Professional law enforcement sees it differently. From the beginning, Pretty and his team have faced criticism from the Edgerton Police Department and Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary. Both expressed concerns that Pretty is attracting dangerous predators to the area and contacting law enforcement at the wrong point in their investigations.
“This group prefers to continue their ‘Jerry Springer’ style tactics of showing their actions on the internet and after they have gotten the attention they seek they then turn to law enforcement to make an arrest,” O’Leary said.
27 News researched the subjects of every publicly posted video of a sting taking place in Dane and Rock County Worldwide Predators Hunters posted to their Youtube page as well as a few of the exposure photos on their Facebook. We were only able to verify one person is currently in jail.
Pretty said in that case, he was able to contact the alleged predator’s parole officer in Janesville to ensure an arrest before any confrontation. As for the others, he insists there’s more work behind the scenes.
“They haven’t yet been charged,” he said. “The investigation is on-going.”
Both O’Leary and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said they don’t know of any pending charges or arrests related to the Worldwide Predator Hunters.
Pretty acknowledged he hasn’t had much success in those two counties but he said there’s still plenty of predators he has put behind bars, particularly in Minnesota.
“The ones that were off camera are basically the really good ones because law enforcement is doing their job and taking the cases over,” he said.
Even in the cases, where Pretty said law enforcement isn’t interested in seeing his evidence, he still goes forward with his stings simply to expose the people who they say have come all this way to meet with a minor.
“The community should know,” he said. “It’s up to law enforcement to do their jobs.”
O’Leary said in order for law enforcement to do that, Pretty and the other predator hunters need to contact them far earlier in their investigations, otherwise the evidence they gather may not be permissible in court.
“Both the Attorney General and I have instructed this group that if they become aware of information where an individual may be involved in criminal activity that they should immediately contact law enforcement so a criminal investigation can be conducted that complies with Wisconsin law,” he said.
Pretty said he’s willing to cooperate as long as Rock County proves they’ll go after the predators and based on what he’s seen over the past year, he’s not sure he trusts them.
“Until they start showing me that they’re willing to work with me then I will keep doing what I’m doing,” he said.
Pretty has agreed to similar arrangements with other counties. After a sting in Lake Mills led to controversy, Pretty agreed not to conduct stings there but rather contact Jefferson County law enforcement when he feels there’s enough evidence to justify a sting.
According to the Jefferson County Jail, the subject of that Lake Mills sting remains in jail though he has not yet been charged with any crimes related to sex trafficking or solicitation.
Pretty’s also faced opposition from Facebook itself. His original page got taken down in June after harassment claims. He moved all the video to Youtube and now live-streams his stings to a closed group.
Still, despite recently starting over online and the lukewarm reception from his local law enforcement, Pretty said he’ll keep the operation going as long as he can.
“I will not stop,” he said. “I’m out here for the kids.”