LARGO – A 38-year-old Tampa man, already registered as a sexual offender, was sentenced to seven years in prison May 6 in a case involving a 14-year-old Largo girl he met online and planned to have sex with, according to Largo police.
Thornell Thomas pleaded guilty to charges of traveling to meet a minor, seduction of a child using the Internet or an electronic device and failing to register an email or instant message name as a sexual offender, according to Pinellas County court records. As part of his sentence, he also was declared a sexual predator.
The case began Aug. 14, 2013, when the aunt of the 14-year-old girl reported a suspicious person parked in front of her home on Sherwood Drive. The aunt told Largo police that she suspected it was an adult man who met her niece online.
Responding officers identified the man as Thomas and realized that he was a sexual offender on probation. Thomas told the officers that he was waiting to buy stereo speakers from somebody from Craigslist, police reported.
Detective Nathan Dix interviewed the girl, who told him that she met the person on a mobile chat messenger application about a month before and arranged to meet and have sex in his vehicle. The girl was trying to leave her home to meet Thomas when her aunt grew suspicious.
Dix spoke to Thomas, who initially lied, but eventually admitted to being there to meet the victim. He denied knowing that the victim was 14 years old.
Forensic reviews of both the victim’s and Thomas’ cellphones, as well as a laptop computer found in Thomas’ vehicle at the time, proved their online relationship and provided probable cause to arrest Thomas.
Earlier this year, Thomas pleaded guilty to three counts of violation of probation and was sentenced to five years in the Florida Department of Corrections. His latest sentence concludes the case.
In a city email, Largo Police Chief Jeff Undestad commended the detectives involved, adding that the case “could have ended up much differently.” Instead, a “sexual offender earned the status of predator (and) is off our streets,” he wrote.