CLEARWATER – Local law enforcement spent four days, Jan. 23-27, chatting online with individuals who might be looking to meet minors for sexual activities.
The operation dubbed Operation Home Alone resulted in the arrest of 35.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Clearwater Police Department collaborated and spent 12 hours each day, 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the command center set up at Clearwater police headquarters, 645 Pierce St. Other agencies assisted, including St. Petersburg police, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Homeland Security, one human exploitation rescue operation, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Air Force, Office of Special Investigations and Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.
According to a press release, during the four-day operation, investigators or “chatters” posing as minors went on various websites, including online classified pages, social media sites and various chat rooms. Investigators became friendly with the subjects and developed cases in which the individuals arranged to meet with the “minor” for the purpose of sexual activity.
Investigators said in their online communication, the subjects explicitly sought out minors for sex; or adults with access to minors that they could engage in sexual activity.
Four north Pinellas county locations were established as “meeting places,” detectives said. Arrests occurred at the four locations when the suspects showed up to meet the “minor” or the “complicit adult.”
The 35 individuals were arrested on various charges to include use of computer services prohibited, traveling to meet a minor, seduction of a minor and transmission of material harmful to a minor. The suspects were taken to the Pinellas County Jail.
During a Jan. 27 press conference, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Clearwater Police Department Chief Anthony Holloway said their efforts in this regard would not end here.
“We are not going to stop until we purge Pinellas County of these predators,” Gualtieri said, calling this the number one public safety issue in Pinellas County at the moment.
“If these predators are going after our children, we’re going to make sure we go after these predators,” said Holloway said.
Gualtieri and Holloway said they were pleased with the results of the joint operation and credited its success to the hard work and cooperation of all of the partnering agencies.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Clearwater Police Department and the participating agencies are part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.