BARTOW, Fla. - More than a dozen men, including theme park workers, a youth football coach and a 20-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach, were arrested over the past week in a sex sting in Polk County, according to authorities.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office said 18 suspects were arrested or charged in "Operation April's Fools," an undercover investigation that ran from Tuesday, March 29 to Monday.
During the operation, undercover detectives posted fictitious ads or profiles on various social media platforms, websites and mobile phone applications, posing as children or as custodians of children, officials said.
"We stopped them from getting to your children last week," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Deputies said numerous men responded to the ads and chatted online, emailed, texted and talked on the phone with undercover detectives. Some of the detectives also responded to profiles and online ads.
Sheriff's officials told WKMG-TV that the suspects solicited who they thought were children as young as 13 years old for sex acts. Two suspects solicited who they thought was the father of a 10-year-old girl to have sex with her, according to officials. Some suspects sent pornographic pictures of themselves, and some asked for nude photos of the children to be sent to them, deputies said. Several of the men drove to the house to follow through with the promises made online to engage in sexual activity with the juveniles, according to authorities.
The 18 suspects face a total of 103 charges, ranging from attempted lewd battery, use of a computer to seduce a child and traveling to meet a minor.
One of the arrestees was Michael Dean Thompson, 20, of Pointe Vedra Beach, who traveled to a Polk County believing he was going to have sex with a teenage girl, according to the Sheriff's Office.
"We create zero illusion that they're ever talking about having sex with anyone other than a child right from the very beginning of the communication," Judd said.
Deputies said Thompson had conversations online with whom he thought was a 14-year-old girl, telling her he was 18 and that he would "make sure her first time was the best."
"One of our undercover detectives went to an app, pretending to be a 14-year-old girl. He simply showed a empty chair on a beach, and said 'spring break and nothing to do,'" said Judd.
Investigators said he traveled to an undercover location, planning to have sex with the teen, but deputies were waiting.
Thompson faces five felony charges, including use of a computer to seduce a child, traveling to meet a minor and attempted lewd battery.
Rhonda Peoples-Waters, News4Jax legal analyst, said Thompson could face up to 45 years in jail and may even be classified as a sex offender.
"The youthfulness of his age, that may allow them to break down the charges further. He will likely be on probation so that means maybe he will be more likely to be helped with psychosexual counseling," Peoples-Waters said.
Thompson is out of jail on a $101,000 bond and will soon face a Polk County judge.
Others among the arrestees were:
- Arthur Joseph Nelson, 19, of Orlando, who's accused of going to the undercover location to have sexual intercourse with who he believed to be a 14-year-old girl, officials said. He told detectives that he works as a janitor at Discovery Cove.
- Jeffrey Erich Binder, 26, of Winter Garden, who's accused of going to the undercover location to have sexual intercourse with who he believed to be a 14-year-old girl. He said he works as a security guard at Walt Disney World, and his uniform was in his car, officials said.
- Jerin Jolly James, 28, of Celebration, who's accused of going to the undercover location to have sexual intercourse with who he believed to be a 14-year-old girl. He told detectives that he is married and works as a technician at Florida Hospital in Orlando, officials said.
- Robert Michael Gordon, 20, of Clermont, who's accused of going to the undercover location to have sexual intercourse with who he believed to be a 14-year-old girl. He told detectives that is a football coach at Central Florida Christian Academy in Orlando and a produce clerk at Publix, officials said.
- Pedro Emilio Portillo, 24, of Apopka, who's accused of going to the undercover location to have sexual intercourse with who he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. He told detectives that he works at Mullinax Ford as a manager, officials said.
Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.