A Polk County Sheriff's Office investigation targeting child predators and online prostitution led to the arrest of 39 suspects.
Nineteen of the arrests from the week-long joint investigation were for men traveling to meet a minor for sex, according to a news release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Nineteen other arrests were related to online prostitution.
“These predators are really out there, trying to violate children,” said Sheriff Grady Judd in the release. “All it takes is one glance at the conversations these predators have with our undercover detectives.
“They lurk in chat rooms, and online, ready to groom and violate your children.”
MUG SHOTS: Arrests made in Polk Co. sting
Judd spoke at a news conference at a Tuesday morning to discuss the sheriff's office's findings from the investigation.
Watch full news conference: Polk County sheriff speaks on sex sting
During the operation, undercover detectives posted fictitious ads or profiles on various social media platforms, websites and mobile phone applications. The detective then posed as children’s, custodians of children or prostitutes.
Numerous suspects responded to the ads even despite repeated warnings and media coverage of past operations. Suspects would then chat online, email, text and talk on the phone with the undercover detectives.
The 39 suspects face a total of 126 charges, of which 95 are felonies and 31 are misdemeanors.
The charges range from: attempted lewd battery; use of computer to seduce a child; transmission of harmful material to a minor; use of a two-way communication device to commit a felony; promotion of sexual performance by a minor; traveling to meet a minor; possession of child pornography; soliciting prostitution, possession of drugs; and deriving proceeds from prostitution. More charges are pending further investigation of these suspects' phones, computers, etc.
The following agencies assisted in the investigation: U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations; Citrus County Sheriff’s Office; Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office; Eustis Police Department; FBI Orlando Bureau; Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Tampa Bay Regional Operations; Lake County Sheriff’s Office; Largo Police Department; Lee County Sheriff’s Office.; Manatee County Sheriff’s Office; Orange County Sheriff’s Office; Orlando Police Department; Osceola County Sheriff’s Office; Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office; Sanford Police Department; Sarasota Police Department; Seminole County Sheriff’s Office; Tampa Police Department ; members of the State Attorney's Office and with Attorney General Pam Bondi's Office of Statewide Prosecution.
The investigation ran from May 15 through Sunday.