The investigators or “chatters” posed as minors and went on various websites including online classified pages, social media sites and various chat rooms, the sheriff’s office said. Investigators communicated with the subjects and developed cases in which the individuals arranged to meet with the “minor” for sexual activity.
The suspects range in age from 22 to 70, and were arrested on various charges to include traveling to meet a minor, use of computer services prohibited and possession of child pornography, the sheriff’s office said.
Investigators say one of the suspects, arrested for traveling to meet a 12-year-old and for possession of child pornography, told investigators his sexual interest was juveniles “diapers to 11 years old,” according to the sheriff’s office. Another suspect planned to bring his “14-year-old victim” to the condo where he worked so they could be alone and undisturbed.
Seventeen of the suspects were arrested and taken to the Pinellas County Jail, the sheriff’s office said. One suspect was turned over to the Air Force to face charges through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Other agencies involved were the sheriff’s offices from Lee, Pasco, Polk, Osceola and Seminole, counties; Sanford police; the Department of Homeland Security; and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office.
The investigation ran in 10-hour shifts Thursday through Sunday, and was run from the Clearwater Police Department, 645 Pierce St.