Eighteen individuals, ranging in age from 22 to 70, were arrested during a four-day operation conducted by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Clearwater Police Department and personnel from 10 supporting agencies.
“Operation Guardian” ran for 10-hour shifts from April 10-13 from an operation command center inside Clearwater PD, 645 Pierce St. Investigators, aka “chatters,” posed as minors at various websites looking for individuals trying to entice minors to meet for sex. The chatters used online classified pages, social media sites and various chat rooms.
During their online sessions, investigators established “rapport” with the subjects and developed cases in which the individuals arranged to meet with the “minor” for the purpose of sexual activity, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office.
Investigators said the suspects explicitly sought out minors for sex or adults with access to minors that they could engage in sexual activity.
The 18 suspects were arrested on various charges, including traveling to meet a minor, use of computer services prohibited and possession of child pornography.
Investigators reported that one of the suspects, arrested for traveling to meet a 12-year-old and for possession of child pornography, later told investigators his sexual interest was juveniles “diapers to 11 years old.”
Another suspect planned to bring his “14-year-old victim” to the condominium where he worked where they could be alone and undisturbed. Another suspect engaged in a chat with investigators, after just having bonded out for the charge of traveling to meet a minor in this same operation.
Seventeen of those arrested were transported to the Pinellas County Jail. One suspect, who is currently on active duty, was turned over to the United States Air Force and will face charges through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Other agencies participating in the operation include Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Sanford Police Department, Department of Homeland Security, United States Air Force, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.