Man arrested by Jennings deputies after he was accused of arranging to meet a 13-year-old for sex

Matthew Covert

NORTH VERNON A 48-year-old Columbus man has been arrested in a sting operation in Jennings County after he allegedly arranged to meet for sex with someone who had posed as a 13-year-old girl, authorities said.

According to information posted on the Jennings County Sheriff’s Department’s Facebook page, Matthew Covert, 48, Columbus, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of Level 4 felony child solicitation.

“Deputies with the Jennings County Sheriff’s Office received information about an adult male planning to meet a 13 year old female for a sexual encounter,” the post said, adding that Covert “made plans to meet the ‘female’ at a business in North Vernon.

“Covert attempted to alter his appearance in an effort to throw off investigators, however he provided his exact location inside the store, making a visual identification possible based on a recent photograph he had provided,” the post said, adding that Covert attempted to flee on foot as deputies approached, but he was quickly apprehended.

According to the sheriff’s office, Covert was booked into the Jennings County Jail at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, held with no bond. The sheriff’s office on Monday refused a request from The Republic to provide a probable cause affidavit or any other records related to Covert’s arrest.

As of midday Monday, no formal charges had been filed against Covert, according to online court records.

The investigating officer in the case was Deputy Doug Brown, assisted by Sgt. Drew Heilers, along with North Vernon police officers Sgt. Lucas Newsome, Michael Holliday and Owen Miller, and school resource officer Seth Beville, the sheriff’s department said.

The sting appears to have been set up by Predator Catchers Indianapolis (PCI), though that information was not shared by the sheriff’s department in its Facebook post. Several commenters, however, mentioned they had watched the arrest of Covert live on video streamed by the group.

PCI also was behind the sting in which former Columbus East drama coach John Johnson, 52, was arrested in November in North Vernon. Johnson was charged with Level 4 felony child solicitation after PCI president Eric Schmutte set up a decoy profile posing as a fictitious 14-year-old boy, and had been communicating with an adult male who was using the alias of Joe. Court documents state Schmutte had arranged to meet Joe at the North Vernon Walmart Supercenter, near the intersection of State Road 3 and North Second Street, to go somewhere for a sexual encounter.

After they met, video posted on the PCI Facebook page shows Schmutte following Johnson, showing him digital photos and continuously questioning him about his intentions until Johnson leaves the store, where deputies with the Jennings County Sheriff’s Department took Johnson into custody near the store’s main entrance.

Johnson is scheduled to stand trial on the child solicitation charge Nov. 13 in Jennings Circuit Court.

Video of Covert’s arrest did not appear on PCI’s Facebook page or its web page Monday. A link to the PCI Youtube page on Monday redirected to a message that reads, “This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy prohibiting content designed to harass, bully or threaten.”