Law enforcement sex crimes units just announced 25 arrests for traveling to meet a minor in the Tampa area. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) combined forces with the Department of Homeland security, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Office of Statewide Prosecution and the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. FDLE is reporting that the majority of those accused have been arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor for sex, traveling to meet a minor for sex, sending harmful material to a minor and unlawful use of two-way device. If the accused are convicted as charged, they are facing significant prison time and the requirements of a registered sex offender.
We have seen these stings pop up across central Florida over the past couple of years including in Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole, Volusia and Lake Counties. This latest operation headed by FDLE nicknamed “Operation e-Guardian” was the first of its kind with FDLE in charge of the operation. The operation e-Guardian would set up listings on several locations across the web including chat rooms, dating sites, social networks, and online classified ads like Craigslist and Backpages.com. These types of operations are typically in place at a private residence and will be in place for about 5 days. The sex crimes agents would receive an inquiry from a listing soliciting sex with a minor and then instant message, text or even email the suspect to start the process. The Agents must establish the age of the minor and make it clear the child’s intentions of having sex with the adult. Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee states, “It is critical that we conduct operations such as Operation e-Guardian as part of a multi-faceted approach to ensure the children in our community are protected from these individuals who are out to sexually exploit minors. A strong message needs to be sent to these offenders that this behavior will not be tolerated and if they commit acts such as this, they will be arrested and placed in jail.”