Richland County, SC (WLTX) -- A South Carolina Boy Scout leader has been arrested as part of a sting that targeted underage sex crimes.
Richland County deputies announced Thursday the arrest of 38 people in an online sex sting called Operation Full Armor. Among those arrested were alleged child predators, buyers of commercial sex (Johns), and prostitutes.
During a news conference, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott revealed one of those arrested was a Boy Scout leader.
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News19 has learned that leader was 34-year-old Heath Ward Mills. According to the arrest warrant against him, Mills was taken into custody on July 13 on a charge of criminal solicitation of a minor. We've also learned that he volunteered as a Boy Scout Troop leader for the Indian Waters Council.
The warrants claim Mills tried to convince someone he believed to be a 14-year-old into performing sex acts.
Lott has said that during the sting, experts chatted online with the suspects, and posed as underage teens.
Mills is out of jail on bond, but his release has some conditions. Among them, he is to have no unsupervised contact with minors, and he is only allowed to use the internet for work purposes.
The Boys Scouts Indian Waters Council said they notified Mills of his removal from scouting the same day as his arrest. We also received this statement from Doug Stone an Executive with the Indian Waters Council:
"This individual's behavior is abhorrent and runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands. Upon learning of this report, we took immediate action and removed this individual from our membership and prohibited him from any future participation in our programs."
Stone also said he personally met with all of the families of the troop Mills volunteered with and the leaders and clergy of the unit to discuss any concerns as well as their youth protection protocol.
We also reached out to the Boy Scouts of America and they sent us this statement:
“Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members and that is our top priority. We work every day to protect children by mandating strict youth protection policies and procedures at every level of our organization. These include a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff, requiring youth protection training of all adult leaders and volunteers, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse."
“We consistently evaluate and reinvest resources where needed to strengthen our policies and ensure they are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society’s knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention. We also regularly consult with experts from law enforcement, child safety, psychology, and other relevant fields.”
The Boy Scouts of America also said they conduct extensive screening for any potential volunteers such as background checks, including criminal background checks of which the BSA completes between 200,000 and 250,000 every year.