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Miss America Helps Bust Sex Predators

Miss America Lauren Nelson can add Long Island crimefighter to her resume.

The Lawton, Okla., beauty recently went undercover with police in Suffolk County and participated in a sting operation targeting would-be sexual predators.

Officers with the county's computer crimes unit created an online profile of a 14-year-old girl that included photographs of Nelson as a teenager.

"I got to chat online with the predators and made phone calls, too," Nelson said in a telephone interview from Atlantic City, N.J. "The Suffolk County Police Department was there the whole time."

Photos: Miss America

The operation was taped for Fox television's "America's Most Wanted," which will air the segment on Saturday. Tim Motz, a spokesman for the Suffolk police department, said the operation was ongoing.

At least four men were arrested during the sting and face criminal charges, said Avery Mann, a spokesman for "America's Most Wanted." Another six men agreed to meet Nelson, he said.

Nelson, 20, posed online as a young teen and went into chat rooms, where she said men would begin sending her instant messages asking her how old she was and where she lived.

"I would say I'm a 14-year-old female from Long Island," she said. "Sometimes they would say, 'You're too young, sorry,' which is exactly what needs to happen, but some would continue chatting.

"It would only take a matter of time before it got pretty explicit."

Nelson then arranged to meet the men at a home in Long Island, where police and camera crews were waiting.

"The story was that they knew I was 14, and I told them I was cutting school to meet with them," Nelson said. "I stood outside on the porch, and I would say hi to them and wave them inside."

Once she entered the home with a man, Nelson left the room and police and "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh confronted him.

"That part was very scary, but the police were all over the place," Nelson said. "I was nervous, of course, but it was a very controlled environment, very safe."

Art McMaster, president of the Miss America Organization, said he initially was hesitant about Nelson's participating in the sting but agreed after speaking with Nelson's father and the producers of the television show.

"We came to the agreement that as long as she was safe and wanted to do this, we'd be behind her," McMaster said.

Nelson, whose platform issue is Internet safety for children, said she was eager to participate in the sting and draw attention to the dangers of the Internet.

"As many as we caught on that day, there are a lot more out there," she said. "It's nice to know that they were chatting with police officers and me rather than a 14- or 15-year-old girl."