POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Candy, condoms, and narcotics were some of the items that suspects brought with them when they traveled to have sex with children, according to detectives who recently conducted an undercover online child sex sting that targeted child sex predators.
Seventeen people were arrested during “Operation April’s Fools” which was conducted March 29 through April 4 in Polk County. An arrest warrant was issued for an 18th suspect.
Among those arrested were a Walt Disney World security guard, a Discovery Cove theme park janitor, a technician at Florida Hospital, a football coach, an Alaska Airlines customer service manager who brought LSD and cocaine with him, according to investigators.
“The person that looks normal on the outside, they have this frightening ability to attack children as young as 10,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd of the suspects.
During the operation, undercover detectives posted fictitious ads or profiles on various social media platforms, websites, and mobile phone applications, posing as children, or as custodians of children.
Detectives say that despite the repeated warnings and media coverage of past operations, numerous men responded to the ads and then proceeded to chat online, email, text, and talk on the phone with the undercover detectives who posed as children or custodians of children online.
Some of the detectives responded to profiles and online ads. The suspects solicited who they thought were children as young as 13 years old for sex acts; two suspects solicited who they thought was the father of a 10-year-old girl to have sex with her.
Some suspects sent pornographic pictures of themselves, and some asked for nude photos of the children to be sent to them. Several of the men drove to the house to follow through with the promises made online to engage in sexual activity with the juveniles.
Most of the suspects traveled to an undercover location or to another meeting place. Detectives say nine suspects brought condoms, some brought candy, and some brought illegal narcotics to the undercover location.
Sheriff Judd said some of the suspects had guns with them. Judd warned parents to talk to their children about being safe while online.
“They show up to sexually attack children. Do you hear me? They’re after your children online,” warned Judd.
The suspects ranged in age, some were single, others were married.
Five suspects told detectives they were married. The youngest suspect arrested was 19 years old, and the oldest suspect arrested was 60 years old – the average age of the suspects is 28 years old.
Six of the suspects were from Polk County (Auburndale, Davenport, Haines City, Lake Alfred and Lakeland).
Detectives say other suspects traveled from the following locations:
1 traveled from Collier County (Naples);
1 traveled from Lake County (Clermont);
1 traveled from Osceola County (Celebration);
4 traveled from Orange County (Orlando, Winter Garden, Ocoee, Apopka);
1 traveled from St. Johns County (Ponte Vedra);
1 traveled from Seminole County (Lake Mary);
2 traveled from Volusia County (Deltona, Daytona Beach);
1 lives in Alaska (he was visiting Polk)
Including the charges they face in this investigation, the suspects have a combined arrest history of 24 previous felonies and 24 previous misdemeanors.