Guilty pleas and sentences are now rolling in for the 19 men caught in an undercover, underage sex sting in Clay County and there appear to be few outliers in terms of the punishment. Last week, the tenth defendant in the case was sentenced to seven years in prison. He pleaded guilty to the Clay County Sex Charges of traveling to meet a minor to do unlawful acts, use of a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony and soliciting a child via computer to engage in sexual conduct, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. When he was arrested, police found drugs on him, so he also ended up pleading guilty to both possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana in Clay County, the newspaper reported. The sex charges for he and 18 other men stem from a five-day sting “Don’t Play in Clay” in April where various police agencies set out to arrest men seeking sex from young girls, the newspaper reported. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FBI joined forces to pose as a 14-year-old girl and chat online with men interested in sex. Once the men arranged to meet her at a Fleming Island home, police were waiting for them when they arrived. Most of the men are receiving five years in prison and 10 years of Clay County sex offender probation, the newspaper reported.
The sting is similar to the now-infamous “To Catch a Predator” stings that used to air nationally on Dateline NBC. Cases like this can be fraught with entrapment issues as to who is actually initiating the meeting. But in most cases there is enough of a record built with the online chat transcripts alone that taking a case to trial and having it read out loud in court would not play well to a jury. That’s why, in most cases, defendants are taking plea agreements. And what appears to be happening in this case is common for similar large busts of this nature: the precedent is set by the first couple of people who plead guilty and the rest can either fall in line or go to trial. All of the men are charged with similar sex crimes but they are not dependent on one another. This differs from a large-scale drug bust, where people are often flipping on each other and helping police in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. For the Clay County sting, police don’t need Suspect 1 to help their case against Suspect 19 – it serves them no purpose. Part of the benefit an experienced Clay County Sex Crimes Attorney brings to the table is knowing when the state’s best offer is going to come – and being willing to take it quickly when it does. This comes from working in the system long enough to know how different prosecutors operate, and knowing how different crimes and busts are treated – such as the “Don’t Play in Clay” investigation.
If you or a loved one needs a Sex Crimes Attorney in Clay County or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our Clay County Sex Crimes Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.