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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014

St. Pete woman goes "undercover" to protect daughter on Facebook


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She had already told her 11-year-old daughter not to create a Facebook profile, but the girl did it anyway.

Then, about a month ago, the St. Petersburg woman spotted her daughter's cell phone, lit up in her daughter's darkened bedroom about 11:30 p.m. on a school night.

The mother, 47, then discovered something else: Her daughter was communicating with a 23-year-old man. By then, Michael Bradley and her daughter already were Facebook friends.

The mother called Bradley, of 3876 38th Ave. S., Unit F, in St. Petersburg.

"Do you know she's 11 years old?" she asked him. "If you keep calling my daughter, if you keep texting my daughter, I'm going to call the police and have you arrested."

Bradley didn't stop, though, according to police.

So the mother pretended to be her daughter. She played dumb in text messages, saying she was turning 12. When she was pressed to send provocative photographs of herself, she went to the Sunday newspaper, cut out a Target advertisement featuring a young girl in a bra, lopped off the head and sent along the rest of the picture.

The charade worked.

Bradley was arrested Friday night on eight counts of displaying obscene images to a minor and eight counts of unlawful use of a two-way communication device. He is being held at the Pinellas County Jail, with bail set at $120,000.

"I want other parents to be aware," the woman said Monday. "If you got young girls and they're on Facebook, you better pay attention because if you don't, it leads to more and more."

The Tribune is not naming the mother or the girl to protect the 11-year-old's privacy.

While police praised the woman's vigilance, they stopped short of sanctioning her decision to conduct her own undercover operation.

"Obviously we commend her for her diligence in monitoring her daughter's online activity, which is what was preach," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz. "We would caution one needs to proceed carefully when attempting to go to the next level and continue communications with the effort to try and develop a case."

"Usually this is something best left to law enforcement."

When the woman called Bradley, he denied having any contact with her daughter and suggested someone he identified as his younger brother might have been communicating with her, St. Petersburg police said. Then someone sounding younger than Bradley - or perhaps Bradley changing the tone of his voice - took the phone and said he was 15, police said. The woman then told him to stop.

The texts kept coming, though, despite a voicemail message identifying the phone as belonging to the girl's mother.

On May 28, another text arrived, saying "I want you to have my baby," and the girl's mother called police, but there wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest.

"We didn't feel like we had enough," said Puetz. "The only thing they told her was to keep monitoring the situation."

The woman did more than that. She kept exchanging texts, hoping to gather enough information for police to act.

When the woman, pretending to be her daughter, mentioned she was turning 12 on May 31, she received an invitation to have "birthday sex."

"He wanted a picture of my you-know-what," the woman said. "I'm like, 'You first.' "

On June 2, Bradley used his phone to send along several images of his erect penis, police said. The mother sent the picture of the girl in the bra lifted from the Target advertisement.

Then the woman called police again.

Bradley admitted to sending the pictures but said he had only done so to scare off the girl's sexual advances," according to an arrest report.

The girl's mother doesn't believe that, though.

"He's in love with an 11-year-old girl on Facebook and he's 23 years old," the woman said. "He wanted to meet her at Wal-Mart, pick her up at school."

"If I hadn't caught it, who knows where my child would have ended up."

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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