LOGANVILLE - A pastor residing in Habersham County was arrested last week on nine counts of sexual exploitation of a child via the Internet, Loganville police Chief Michael McHugh confirmed Thursday.
Robert Coats, 51, a minister at Mount Bethel Church of God in Toccoa, was arrested March 20 by Habersham County sheriff's deputies on warrants issued by Loganville police, he said.
Coats is in the Walton County Jail awaiting an appearance in Superior Court.
Coats allegedly sexually exploited a 14-year-old girl on nine separate occasions in unspecified Internet chat rooms. That 14-year-old girl, however, was actually a Loganville police detective who is one of three investigators in the department who pose as children to lure Internet sex criminals.
McHugh said Coats allegedly had 11 "lengthy" online conversations with investigators posing as a 14-year-old girl. He allegedly enticed a child to commit indecent acts on nine of those occasions, incidents that lead to his arrest.
McHugh said Coats' role as a minister put him "in a position of trust" that made him a high arrest priority.
"So many kids are involved in the Internet and MySpace and chat rooms and all that stuff that they are completely naive to somebody's real motives for befriending them," McHugh said. "So what we want to do is get those people off the street who want to make victims of children."
Authorities chatted online with Coats for about a month to develop "an airtight case" against the pastor, McHugh said.
At one point, Coats allegedly exposed himself to investigators on an Internet camera, he said.
Coats was arrested at his church - his main residence - where authorities seized as many as two computers, McHugh said. No additional evidence was found.
Established in August 2006, Loganville's Internet predator program is recognized by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as one of the state's most elite units in fighting online pedophiles.