Undercover detectives from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and partnering agencies conducted a seven-day undercover operation, from March 16, during which detectives posed as girls and boys online — on social media platforms and online dating sites — to investigate those who prey upon and travel to meet children for unlawful sexual activity.
Detectives from the Desoto, Hillsborough, Lake and Osceola Sheriff’s Offices, as well as the Tampa and Altamonte Springs Police Departments, also participated in the operation.
The suspects communicated with and solicited who they thought were children between the ages of 12 and 14 for sex acts. Most of them showed up to an undercover location in Polk County at separate times to meet who they thought were children. Some of them transmitted pornographic images and solicited the children online and were arrested for that.
In all, detectives arrested 17 suspects, including a registered sexual predator; a Navy veteran who works for Disney Vacation Club; an assistant youth soccer coach; a grandfather with nine grandchildren; and two full-time college students. The oldest suspect is 59 and the youngest is 21.
The 17 arrested suspects face a total of 44 felony charges.