They ranged in age from 18 to 66. They were Army reservists, doctors and students, and they traveled as far as 120 miles to have sex with a child who they believed to be 14 years old or younger. Things, however, didn’t go as planned for this group of child predators. They were met by law enforcement officers from a variety of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The operation was titled Operation Volusia Broadband, and it was spearheaded by Florida’s Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. Undercover law enforcement officers posed as children, or in some cases as guardians of children, and chatted with suspected child predators. The undercover officers then lured the offenders to a decoy house in northern Florida that was equipped with surveillance cameras.
“These predators think they’re above the law,” said Sue McCormick, special agent in charge of HSI Tampa, which oversees HSI Cocoa Beach. “We were happy to assist our state and local counterparts execute this operation. Child predators should take note. We will find you, arrest you and make sure you are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Most of the offenders were charged with three state felonies – use of a computer to seduce or solicit a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct, traveling to meet a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
Last week, representatives from HSI Cocoa Beach, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, the State Attorney’s Office, among others, held a news conference to announce that 23 men were arrested as part of the operation.
“The arrests that were made in the past five days should be a wake-up call for all predators. Protecting children is our highest priority, and we’re going to continue to be aggressive and proactive in attacking exploitation whenever and wherever it occurs,” said Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson at the news conference. “I’m glad we got them off the street, out of this county. And let the citizens know we will do this again.”