A sting called Operation Guardian set up by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and other agencies to lure men looking for sex with juveniles netted 12 arrests, and more are expected, Sheriff John Rutherford announced Friday morning.
Law enforcement personnel from Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach, Clay and St. Johns County, Gainesville, Daytona Beach and other agencies set up fake social media accounts and posted messages as if they were minors and waited for men to contact them.
Rutherford said the agents posing as 13- or 14-year-old boys and girls on Instagram and in chat rooms, then used mobile phones to set up meetings at a home in Arlington. He said men came from as far away as New Smyrna Beach and Valdosta, Ga., expecting to meet the teenagers for sex.
"Crime knows no boundaries, and neither should we," Rutherford said, explaining why this activity should concern all of us.
"To parents: I want you to know the experts tell me... if your child’s information is out there, there’s a high, high probability you child will be liked or followed by a sexual predator or offender," Rutherford said. "If they’re in a chat room, there’s almost a 100 percent chance they’ll be contacted by a predator."
Those arrested ranged in age from 19 to 52 and included three active-duty servicemen:
- Andrew Adams, 37, of Lake City -- a restaurant worker
- Andrew Granados, 27,of Jacksonville -- employed by the U.S. Navy
- Isaac Hampton, 19, of Jacksonville -- a temporary laborer
- Steven Knaorsky-Kane, 24, of Jacksonville -- unemployed
- Adam Knopp, 29, of New Smyrna Beach -- a student
- Daniel Mazza, 20, of Jacksonville -- retail worker
- Dennis Mehaffie, 37, of Naylor, Ga. -- employed by U.S. Air Force
- Richard Mills, 22, of Jacksonville -- employed as a tradesman
- Brian Mullis, 26, of Jacksonville -- unemployed
- Derick Robinson, 34, of Jacksonville -- self-employed
- Gabriel Rodiguez, 23, of Jacksonville -- a reservist in the U.S. Army
- Charles Zagorac, 52, of Jacksonville -- a taxi driver
None of the men had prior arrests on sex charges, but they now each face felony charges including accused of use of computer to solicit a child, traveling to meet after using a computer to solicit a child and unlawful use of a communications device.
Some of those arrested claim they went to the house to check on the child's welfare.
"None of these 12 had priors, so it’s very important to realize, these are the kinds of guys flying under the radar. Nobody even knows about them," Rutherford said, adding, "Now we do."
If convicted, each could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.