A sting operation in Florida resulted in the arrest of 22 men seeking sex to engage in sexual activity with children.
The six-day undercover operation took place in Marion County, Florida, and was given the code name “April Fools.”
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office reports the operation, which involved local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, arrested nearly two dozen men who thought they were about to meet underage children.
The Epoch Times reports that “undercover officers exchanged messages with 19 men who, expecting to meet a child between the ages of 12 to 16 for sexual activity, traveled to various locations in Marion County.”
The Sheriff’s Office reported: “During the online exchanges, these men engaged in sexually explicit conversations, graphically describing the sexual acts they hoped to perform with the child.”
Law enforcement officers detained the men when they arrived at designated locations in the county.
The Sherriff’s department reports they issued warrants for eight other men for “sending sexually explicit pictures to individuals they believed were minors.” However, those men did not travel to designated locations to meet their victims.
The Epoch Times reports that of those eight additional men, “three have been arrested and deputies are actively looking for the other five.”
Sheriff Billy Woods said: “A child’s innocence is something we should all strive to protect. I will continue to use all of my resources to hunt down these predators so they may never hurt a child.”
Following the sting operation, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said that officials had arrested 27 individuals as part of the six-day undercover operation.
At a news conference, Woods said 22 of the men arrested were local, including one individual who works as a Florida Department of Corrections officer, one who works in the school system, and the son of Ocala City Council member Ire Bethea Sr.
Woods said his heart goes out to Ire Bethea Sr, “but to him, not to his son.”
“You got one individual who thought he was meeting a 12-year-old paraplegic individual to have sex,” Woods said. “It infuriates me. As a father, my blood boils to think this occurs on a regular basis.”
The Marion County Sheriff urged parents to monitor their children’s online activity, saying:
“Every day, there is somebody out there trying to get your teen into a dark place.”
Woods concluded the press conference by pledging that he and other law enforcement officers would continue investigating and tracking down child sex predators:
“I will use every resource in my power to hunt you down,” he said. “I want this community to know they are the predators. They are the ones preying on your innocent children every day. Our detectives didn’t ask them to have sex. They are the ones who reached out. These predators go where children are.”
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