Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced the results of “Operation Cyber Vigilance,” which resulted in 132 arrests and 282 charges.
“Operation Cyber Vigilance,” is the Florida Sheriff’s Task Force Spring/Summer operation during which law enforcement “sought out” individuals who chat with “minors” online for the purpose of meeting them and engaging them in sexual activity.
Nine sheriff’s offices hosted operations and eight contributed personnel and resources to the operation.
The news conference was held Aug. 5 at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Operation Center located at 1891 Jim Keene Blvd., Winter Haven.
According to a press release from PCSO, over a four-month period the agencies combined arrested 132 suspects on 282 arrest charges. The suspects were arrested on a variety of charges, the most common ones being traveling to meet a minor and using an online service to lure/entice a minor. Other charges included narcotics related offenses, active fugitive warrants and resisting arrest.
The arrested suspects ranged in ages from their 20s through 70s; and came from various occupations to include postal worker, pizza deliveryman, landscaper, a former law enforcement officer and a Disney employee.
The press release included three “notable arrests,” including Bela Sziklassy, 71, a Pinellas County resident, who was arrested for traveling to meet a 12-year-old and possession of child pornography. Investigators say his sexual interest was juveniles “diapers to 11 years old.”
Another Pinellas County resident, Christopher Thomas Stephens, 32, was arrested for traveling to meet a 14-year-old and five counts of possession of child pornography. Investigators said he planned to bring his victim to the condominium where he worked where they could be alone and undisturbed.
Allen Treaster, 40, a Polk County resident was arrested for use of a two-way communication device to commit a felony; use of a computer to lure/entice a minor; travel to meet a minor; lewd and lascivious conduct by a person over 18 years of age; and transmission of materials harmful to a minor.
Treaster, who is a Disney Animal Kingdom employee, told investigators he fantasized about having sex with a 14 year-old boy and that this was not the first time he travelled to have sex with an underage boy.
“In this day and age of technology our children are the most vulnerable. Online predators are a top public safety issue across the state. We remain steadfast in our commitment to continue to utilize every law enforcement resource we have at our disposal to protect our kids from these individuals,” Gualtieri said.
“Florida’s Sheriffs are committed to conducting these investigations to protect our children from sexual predators. We are passionate about preventing child exploitation and holding those who prey on children accountable,” Judd said.
Investigators say awareness is the key. Parents are encouraged to learn to use parental monitoring software for computers and smartphones; to become familiar and learn to utilize social media; to speak to their kids about the dangers of the internet and discuss when there is media coverage of the issue. Investigators ask the public to report online exploitation of children to their local law enforcement.