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Hickory man accused of being involved in child 'sex tourism' crimes

A Hickory man is said to be at the center of an international sex trafficking ring, according to federal agents.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Investigators say a Hickory man is at the center of an international sex trafficking ring that stretches from the Charlotte airport to the Philippines and involves dozens of underage victims.

The case is an example of a new effort to crack down on these crimes.

It is a case so egregious that just the language on the arrest warrants is hard to read.

“The conduct, in this case, was despicable. It is heartbreaking the number of children that have been victimized by this individual. It's almost beyond comprehension,” said Mike Prado, the Deputy Special Agent In charge of Homeland Security Investigations.

Prado said Robert Parker, a 75-year-old retiree living in Hickory, regularly flew from Charlotte to the Philippines to have sex with young girls.

“He made multiple trips to Manilla for the purposes of purchasing children for sex,” said Prado.

It’s called sex tourism and Prado says it’s a growing problem – so much so that agents from the Charlotte region are now stationed in Manilla to help bring down the bad guys.

“It’s a thriving trade because of the money that’s involved by Americans who travel there,” said Prado.

Charlotte-based agents stationed in the Philippines have made 298 arrests this year – up from 246 in 2021.

Prado said a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children led police to Parker’s Hickory home where they say a search turned up thousands of disturbing photos. He’s facing sexual exploitation of a minor charges.

“It’s not uncommon for individuals like this who engage in this type of terrible activity to document for later viewing when they’re back home in the U.S. to make mementos of their sick conduct,” said Prado.

Prado says Parker also traded his photos to get access to more.

“We found 10s of thousands of images not just of children he abused but of other children being abused around the world and in the United States,” said Prado.

Prado says Parker worked with a woman referred to as an “arranger.”

“This individual is a sex trafficker taking disadvantaged poverty-stricken children in the Philippines and subjecting them to horrible acts of sex abuse by predators, the majority of which come from the US.”

Prado said Parker led investigators to this “arranger” and that led to a much bigger discovery.

“Once we identified Parker, we were able to uncover a major sex trafficking ring,” said Prado.

After an intense year-long investigation, Parker was arrested at a bowling alley in Newton where he was a regular in the senior league.

People who played in the league with Parker describe him as “different” and “difficult" and say they’re not shocked by his arrest.

Prado says of the 68 alleged victims, agents were able to rescue 16 and get them to safe houses.

“Every child that’s been abused has to be made whole again- they’re being subjected to the most horrible thing one can imagine,” said Prado.

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The investigation is continuing with more arrests expected in the coming weeks- and Parker is expected to face additional charges as well.

In addition to the arrests made, The Homeland Security Investigations division in Charlotte helped identify and provide assistance to 66 victims of child exploitation in 2021, and 71 in 2022. They helped identify and assist an additional 29 victims of human trafficking this year, up from 25 in 2021.

RELATED: Union County employee charged with child sex crimes, sheriff's office says

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