GAINESVILLE, Fla. – More than 20 men -- most of them from the Gainesville area -- were arrested in the past week as part of Operation Panther, an undercover sting aimed at catching offenders who solicit children for sex.
The operation, which netted 21 arrests, was led by the Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or ICAC, which is headquartered at the Gainesville Police Department.
The 21 men were rounded up in a five-day multiagency sting. They were arrested after agents posed as young teens on the Internet and agreed to meet the men for sex.
Each of the 11 agents had a total of between 100 and 200 contacts on social media sites, like Craigslist. That's 2,200 people in five days who were interested in talking about sex with someone underage online.
Of those 2,200, around 90 offenders showed interest in actually meeting the children in person. Of those, 21 actually traveled with the intention of meeting a child for sex.
Those 21 men were:
- Beau Allen, 22
- Cody Bebee, 23
- Kaelan Beddoe, 21
- Kyle Cadegiani, 26
- Raul Ellington, 22
- Eric Frye, 30
- Courtney Grant, 27
- Aubner Herrera-Castillo, 28
- Kevin Kasper, 51
- Patrick Koenigstein, 56
- Ricardo Lopez, 47
- Larry Lucas, 43
- Manuel Martinez-Torres, 39
- Charles Middlebrooks, 25
- Dominique Oliver, 25
- Alan Orsini, 48
- Andrew Ortiz-Gomez, 22
- Michael Parson, 19
- Eugene Slevin, 19
- Anthony Stamper, 21
- Nathaniel Watson, 32
One man drove almost an hour and a half to meet with someone he thought was a child. Instead, he and the other 20 men were met with an arrest team of law enforcement officers.
GPD released video of some of the takedowns, including one of 30-year-old Eric Frye, who was surprised when detectives rushed out to arrest him.
"We took 21 people off the streets of Gainesville that could be a threat to our children here in this community," GPD Chief Tony Jones said. "And that's going to be the key, taking some individuals that cause harm to children off our streets."
Many offenders brought condoms and other sexual paraphernalia to the meetings, according to GPD spokesman Ben Tobias.
Investigators said the arrests should be a warning to parents everywhere to keep a close eye on what their children are doing online.
"The Internet is just another place -- consider it another town," said Detective John Madsen, commander of the ICAC Task Force. "If you wouldn't send your child to another city without supervision, then you shouldn't let them hang out on the Internet and use social media for e-commerce or anything else (without supervision)."
Of those arrested, one had a prior lewd and lascivious molestation conviction, one was on federal probation for a weapons charge, and one had a bat, rubber gloves, rope and a tarp in his car when he went to meet the child.
"He has not admitted to any nefarious purposes for those items, but it's obviously still concerning," Madsen said.
Investigators said all 21 men are facing state charges right now, but some could face federal charges.
Investigators pointed out that criminals are getting much smarter with these types of crimes, saying it takes much longer than in the past to make an arrest. They also said the man with the bat and other items in his car actually stalked agents for about two hours before they made their arrest.
Other agencies involved in the operation include the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, the Tallahassee Police Department, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force.