BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) — A weeklong undercover investigation in Polk County targeting online child predators and online prostitution resulted in dozens of arrests.
On Tuesday, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced 39 men and women were arrested throughout the investigation, which ran from May 15 through May 21. The suspects together face a total of 126 charges, including 95 felonies.
Nineteen men were arrested for traveling to meet a minor for sex. Nineteen other arrests were made related to online prostitution. One person was arrested for possession of child pornography.
During the investigation, detectives with the Polk Sheriff’s Office and more than a dozen other agencies posted fake ads or profiles on social media, mobile apps and other websites posing as children or guardians of children. They also posed as prostitutes or people soliciting them. Several suspects responded to the ads and chatted, emailed, texted and even talked on the phone with the undercover detectives.
Deputies say suspects solicited who they thought were children as young as just 10 years old for sex acts. Some sent inappropriate pictures of themselves and asked for nude photos of the children. Nineteen suspects drove to houses to engage in sexual activity.
“These predators are really out there, trying to violate children. All it takes is one glance at the conversations these predators have with our undercover detectives. They lurk in chat rooms, and online, ready to groom and violate your children,” Sheriff Grady Judd said. “Fortunately, we’ve prevented at least 19 of them from doing so. The things that these predators say to children are vile, disgusting, and not fit for anyone except trained detectives to read. And even seasoned, trained detectives are repulsed. These predators need to be locked up, and stay locked up and away from children.”
The sheriff’s office released this breakdown of the arrests:
- Six suspects who wanted to have sex with children were from Polk County
- Thirteen suspects drove to Polk County from Orange County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Marion County, Duval County, Pinellas County and Brevard County
- Eleven suspects brought condoms or told undercover detectives they would bring condoms
- Ten suspects mentioned law enforcement or being set-up but drove to the undercover location anyway
- Seven suspects asked about virginity
- Five suspects sent nude photos
- Four suspects asked for nude photos
- Three suspects said they were married
- Three suspects said they wanted to teach them about sex
- Three suspects talked to detectives posing as guardians of children and drove to have sex with the child, and one was going to pay $100 to have sex with them
- Two suspects brought marijuana, one brought alcohol and one brought whipped cream
Deputies say the youngest person arrested was 19. The oldest was 60. All of the suspects have a combined history of 46 previous felony arrests.