St. Johns County resident caught up in “Operation April Fools” sex sting

A man from Ponte Vedra Beach, along with seventeen others, was arrested on various sex charges in Polk County recently.  According to a report in on First Coast News, Polk County initiated Operation April Fools, which is a sting to catch sex predators.  Detectives posed as minors, or guardians of minors, trying to seduce men into coming to meet the minor for sex.  The news reports that some men brought birth protection and drugs to a house they thought housed a child waiting for sex.  Some men allegedly asked for pictures from the “child” and many sent nude pictures of themselves.  The men were arrested, in total, for over 100 sex or sex related crimes in Florida.

Almost every month, counties in Florida set up these stings, often referred to as “traveler” stings.  Local police set up an online advertisement, often times on Craigslist, with a general title not specifying the person posting is a child.  Once a man contacts the poster, the sex detective posing as a child will message back to the man telling him they are a child.  Most times, they ask if the man minds being with a younger person.  This first messaging contact is all recorded to be used in the future prosecution.  The conversations then move to cell phones with back and forth texting. These dialogues are also recorded for further use by law enforcement.  Text messaging is where photographs are sent back and forth.  The police even have pictures of the “minor” ready to send. These pictures are of a younger looking adult so the men don’t get get spooked. After the back and forth texting, some agencies set up a phone call with the suspect.  Eventually, a meeting is scheduled and as soon as the man shows up, they are arrested.

Law enforcement usually rents a house in a residential neighborhood for the meetings.  They set up video cameras outside and inside the house.  The men are filmed driving up to the house and walking to the door.  A young girl, or boy, will answer the door and as soon as the man walks in, they are thrown to the ground by police officers and handcuffed.  The men are then taken to a room that is set up with a video camera and are read their rights.  If the men don’t invoke their right to remain silent, they begin to answer questions about the situation and why they were there.  After the interview, the men are taken to jail.

The primary crime the men are charged with is Traveling to Meet a Minor, which is a third degree felony in Florida.  In order to be convicted of this Jacksonville sex crime, the man would have to use a computer to seduce or entice a child or another person believed to be a child, to engage in unlawful sexual conduct.  In addition to facing up to five years in prison for this sex charge, the men are also facing being labeled a sex offender for the rest of their lives.  Another common Florida felony that accompanies these cases is Unlawful use of a two-way communications device.  This is also a third degree felony in Florida.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Sex Crime Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.