POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Candy, condoms and narcotics were some of the items that suspects brought with them when they traveled to have sex with children, according to detectives who recently conducted an undercover online child sex sting that targeted child sex predators.
Police arrested 17 people during “Operation April’s Fools,” conducted March 29 through April 4 in Polk County. An arrest warrant was issued for an 18th suspect.
Among those arrested were a Walt Disney World Security Guard, Discovery Cove theme park janitor, Florida Hospital technician, football coach and an Alaska Airlines customer service manager who brought LSD and cocaine with him, according to investigators.
“The person that looks normal on the outside, they have this frightening ability to attack children as young as 10,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd of the suspects.
During the operation, undercover detectives posted fictitious ads or profiles on various social media platforms, websites and mobile phone applications, posing as children or as custodians of children.
Detectives say that despite the repeated warnings and media coverage of past operations, numerous men responded to the ads and proceeded to chat online, email, text and talk on the phone with the undercover detectives.
Some of the detectives responded to profiles and online ads. The suspects solicited who they thought were children as young as 13 years old for sex acts; two suspects solicited who they thought was the father of a 10-year-old girl.
Some suspects sent pornographic pictures of themselves, and others asked for nude photos of the children to be sent to them. Several of the men drove to the house to follow through with the promises made online to engage in sexual activity with the juveniles.
Most of the suspects traveled to an undercover location or to another meeting place. Detectives say nine suspects brought condoms, some brought candy and some brought illegal narcotics to the undercover location. Sheriff Judd said some of the suspects had guns with them.
Judd warned parents to talk to their children about being safe while online.
“They show up to sexually attack children. Do you hear me? They’re after your children online,” Judd warned.
The suspects ranged in age. The youngest suspect arrested was 19 years old, and the oldest suspect arrested was 60 years old. The average age of the suspects is 28 years old.
Five suspects told detectives they were married.
Six of the suspects were from Polk County (Auburndale, Davenport, Haines City, Lake Alfred and Lakeland).
Detectives say other suspects traveled from the following locations:
- One from Collier County (Naples)
- One from Lake County (Clermont)
- One from Osceola County (Celebration)
- Four from Orange County (Orlando, Winter Garden, Ocoee, Apopka)
- One from St. Johns County (Ponte Vedra)
- One from Seminole County (Lake Mary)
- Two from Volusia County (Deltona, Daytona Beach)
- One lives in Alaska
Including the charges they face in this investigation, the suspects have a combined arrest history of 24 previous felonies and 24 previous misdemeanors.