Man groomed, raped minor, sheriff says

A 55-year-old man has been arrested after he groomed, sexually assaulted, and raped a minor, according to Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson.
Published: May. 12, 2023 at 11:03 AM EDT|Updated: May. 12, 2023 at 4:50 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WNEM) - A 55-year-old man has been arrested after he groomed, sexually assaulted, and raped a minor, according to Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson.

John Cole, formerly known as John Peters, is a sexual predator who has been operating for 35 years and now has a victim who is 15-years-old, Swanson said.

Cole was first convicted and went to prison for criminal sexual conduct in 1987 for knowingly infecting adult partners with HIV without their knowledge. In 2013, former Health Department Director Mark Valacak called the sheriff’s office and stated there was a high increase of young men who were HIV positive, Swanson said, saying this information led back to Cole, which in turn led to another conviction and a prison sentence of seven years.

Cole was at a community event in December 2022 when he made a connection and formed a friendship with a family member of the 15-year-old victim, Swanson said, adding he found a common bond of a birthdate with the victim, which he used to groom him.

Cole took the victim to a Carmen-Ainsworth vs Hamady basketball game in February 2023. On the way to the game is where the first sexual contact was made, Swanson said, adding Cole then took the victim to a Flint Township business where he aggressively sexually assaulted him.

Swanson said the next instance of sexual assault took place on March 1, when Cole attended a birthday party at a Flint Township restaurant that moved to a bowling alley where more sexual assaults took place.

GHOST was made aware of the situation in April when the family of the victim brought him in to do the investigation. Swanson said as soon as they heard the name John Cole, they knew exactly what his intentions were.

“He is one of the most vile that I have seen because of the nearly four decades of doing this, and his grooming tactics were some of the best I have seen in the worst way,” Swanson said.

In a video of a podcast recording Cole made, he talked about his childhood and said, “I made it in my mind that I personally, make sure a child never experience what I went through.” Swanson said this was another grooming tactic he used to bring the guards down of young, unsuspecting teens.

Swanson said the GHOST team went through Cole’s phone after his arrest and they found conversations over text where Cole used more grooming tactics on the victim, saying, “You gotta do your part” and using photos of money as bait to attract the victim.

Swanson also disclosed GHOST found disturbing digital evidence on Cole’s phone which also revealed there are at least two more victims, saying he also believed they probably weren’t told about the HIV either.

Cole has been charged with 12 counts associated with the sexual assault of the minor, Swanson said. Cole’s bond was set at $75,000. He is due back in court on May 25 for a probable cause hearing.

Swanson said if you believe you’re a victim, to please come forward to get justice and build a stronger case against Cole.

He also laid out rules of advice to help protect you and your family from predators: be aware of your surroundings, including someone including themselves around your family, be aware of people’s intentions, and if you see something, say something.

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