JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – An Alabama man was detained on federal sex charges after being accused of impersonating a University of North Florida softball coach, News4Jax learned Wednesday.
Jason Ford, 42, an aide at Northview High School in Dothan, Alabama, was arrested in May after an FBI investigation. He was charged with trying to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity.
According to an indictment, Ford posed as a softball coach and was contacting female softball players in Florida, Alabama and Tennessee in 2017.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office first began investigating in January 2017. According to a police report, the Sheriff's Office was informed someone made a call claiming to be UNF's assistant softball coach.
According to UNF's police chief, the impersonations began early last year and continued through November. The imposter was sending texts, asking female athletes questions in reference to clothing size. The imposter also requested the conversations be kept private.
The FBI was notified, and an undercover agent made contact with Ford via text message, posing as a 15-year-old player eager to be selected for a scholarship. Documents show at some point in their conversation, the undercover agent began receiving messages that were sexual in nature.
According to documents, on April 24, 2018, Ford asked the agent posing as the teen for sexually explicit photos or videos in exchange for $30 worth of Amazon gift cards. The undercover agent asked for the gift cards prior to sending photos, and the agent received three pictures of Amazon gift card claim codes.
Investigators determined the gift cards were purchased at a Winn-Dixie store in Dothan. Court documents state surveillance video shows Ford entering the store and purchasing the gift cards that were later sent to the undercover agent.
On May 7, investigators searched Ford's home and arrested him. Documents show investigators found several prepaid cellphones that were used to contact softball players.
According to the FBI, Ford also posed as a University of South Carolina softball coach.
Benjamin Ballard, a coach and a parent, told News4Jax he found the details of the case to be disturbing.
"As a dad, that is a scary part when you trust someone to be with your child and to help develop them as an athlete and as a male coach who works with female athletes and male athletes, to train them and work with them, you have to have that relationship where parents can trust you," Ballard said. "I'm glad that someone found out before something serious happened."
The case was transferred to federal court in Miami.
Ford, who was also the owner and general manager of the Elite Lady Sox fast-pitch softball team in Dothan, is being held without bond pending trial July 23. If convicted, he could get up to 15 years in prison.