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Documents: Tyler man charged with online solicitation of child after citizen group's 'predator sting' efforts

According to an arrest affidavit, a member of a citizens group that "catch(es) pedophiles" acted as a decoy to conduct a predator sting.
Credit: Stock photo

TYLER, Texas — A Tyler man accused of using a messaging service to meet with pre-teen girls for sex was arrested this weekend after a group of citizens conducted a "predator sting," according to documents. 

Newell Vandergriff, 67, has been charged with online solicitation of a minor under 14 years old Saturday and remains in the Smith County Jail on a $350,000 bond. 

According to an arrest affidavit, a member of a citizens group that "catch(es) pedophiles" acted as a decoy to conduct a predator sting by pretending to be a 13-year-old girl on the online application "Meet24." 

The group member called the Smith County Sheriff's Office in October to a Tyler gas station saying that the man she was speaking with, "Mike," showed up to the meeting spot they agreed on. She said the man approached her, put his arm around her waist and told her to pick out a drink and beef jerky.

One of the group members said Vandergriff told the person he believed was a 13-year-old girl he was bringing condoms in the messages with the decoy, the document said.

Other group members confronted "Mike," and he left shortly after the confrontation. The group member told deputies her group already identified the man as Vandergriff during another sting in August in Big Sandy, the affidavit stated. 

In August, the group pretended to be an 11-year-old girl using the Meet24 app and Vandergriff sent a sexually explicit photo to the decoy and sought out to meet the child at a Big Sandy store. The member told deputies Vandergriff admitted to wanting to have sex with the girl, the affidavit detailed. 

Deputies reviewed the chat logs, which included inappropriate texts from Vandergriff to the person portraying a child, the affidavit said. 

The profile photo on the "Mike" account matched Vandergriff's Pennsylvania driver's license photo. The deputies also collected surveillance video from the gas station, where the sting occurred, according to the document. 

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