JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man became the 14th person in Florida since February to be arrested in operation “Cupids Arrow.”
Cupids Arrow was a sting operation by state law enforcement officials that went after online child predators.
Eric Thomas, 58, was the latest to be arrested following a lengthy investigation linking him to a gay social networking website.
The case originated out of Jacksonville earlier this year but Thomas was not captured last week when he appeared in a Columbia County courtroom on an unrelated legal matter.
According to a seven-page arrest warrant and affidavit, the criminal case against Thomas began back in early February when he appeared on Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s radar as a potential child predator. At the time, FDLE was conducting an operation called “Cupid’s Arrow.” News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith says the operation targeted online child predators.
“So they go online and try to see if someone is trying to contact children in a sexual way, in terms of trying to get them to send photographs or to make contact with them to have sex with the child,” Smith said.
During operation Cupids Arrow, an undercover agent posed as a 14-year-old on a gay social networking website. Investigators say Thomas sent the undercover agent explicit images of gay men having sex and explicit messages. Smith says critics of can never argue this was police entrapment.
"People from law enforcement are just talking with people," Smith said. "They wait to see if someone will actually reach out and try to make sexual contact with them. That’s not considered entrapment.”
In late March, two FDLE agents interviewed Thomas at his home. They showed him three images that were sent to the undercover operative but Thomas told the agents the images were not of him. A warrant was later issued for Thomas’ arrest but he was not captured until last week when he showed up at the Columbia County Courthouse on an unrelated charge.
News4Jax is told that more arrests are coming.