BARTOW, Fla (970 WFLA)- In an undisclosed location in Polk County, beginning on Saturday, June 8, through Saturday, June 15, 2013, Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives, along with detectives and investigators from 11 other local, state and federal agencies, conducted a week long undercover investigation targeting online child predators and arrested 41 suspects.
"Despite the fact our detectives have conducted nine of these operations since 2006; despite the extensive media coverage when we talk about the numerous arrests; despite the fact we make no secret about putting suspects in jail - there are those who continue to travel to Polk County to have sex with a child. Make no mistake; we will continue to make protecting our children our number one priority. We will continue to conduct these investigations, and we will continue to arrest those who would travel to Polk County to harm children." - Sheriff Grady Judd.
The 40 males and one female responded to ads and chatted on several social media sites, which included backpage and craigslist, with detectives and investigators from:
1. Polk County Sheriff’s Office
2. Manatee County Sheriff’s Office
3. Florida Department of Law Enforcement - Tampa Region
4. St. Petersburg Police Department
5. U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations
6. Bradenton Police Department
7. Lake County Sheriff’s Office
8. Orange County Sheriff’s Office
9. Sumter County Sheriff’s Office
10. Longwood Police Department
11. Department of Homeland Security
12. Osceola County Sheriff’s Office
In the largest undercover operation of its kind, the 40 males and one female suspects face a total of 180 charges which range from: Attempted Lewd Battery, Lewd and Lascivious Battery, Unlawful use of a Two-Way Communication Device, Seduce/Solicit/Entice to commit in Sexual Act, Traveling to Meet Minor, Drug Possession, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Traveling to Meet/Use Computer to Solicit Guardian, Transmission of Harmful Material to Minor, to Procuring Minor for Prostitution, and Resisting Arrest without Violence. The suspects will be prosecuted by the State Attorney’s Office of the Tenth Judicial Circuit.
"By partnering with other agencies we can extend our resources. Detectives, investigators and officers have worked around the clock to ensure these suspects are taken off the streets. Without our undercover detectives, and the dedicated men and women from partnering agencies, child predators would have the opportunity to sexually attack your child. We will continue our investigation, working closely with the State Attorney’s Office, to ensure those who would prey on our children are held accountable for their crimes." - Sheriff Grady Judd.
The suspects traveled from all across central Florida -13 suspects were from Polk County. Polk County suspects traveled from Bartow, Winter Haven, Wahneta, Davenport, Haines City, Lakeland, and Lake Wales. Other central Florida locations suspects traveled from were:
8 traveled from Orange County (Apopka, Winter Garden, and Orlando)
6 traveled from Osceola County (Kissimmee, St. Cloud and Celebration)
3 traveled from Seminole (Lake Mary, Winter Springs, Longwood)
2 traveled from Lake County (Clermont)
2 traveled from Hardee County (Wauchula and Bowling Green)
2 traveled from Volusia County (Ormond Beach - one of which was an 18-year-old girl)
1 traveled from Pinellas County (Dunedin)
1 traveled from Hillsborough County (Brandon)
1 from Conyers Georgia (in Tampa on business)
1 from Madison Wisconsin (in Orlando on business)
1 from Carson Alabama (in Mulberry on business)
16 suspects brought condoms
11 admitted they were married
18 was the youngest
65 was the oldest
Including the charges they face in this investigation, suspects have a combined arrest history of 99 felonies and 65 misdemeanors.