JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A man who lived with one of 22 men arrested in a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office child sex sting said his roommate was living a double life and he had no idea.
Donnie Haeft told News4Jax he lived with Kyle Benjamin, 32, who was one of nearly two dozen men charged with soliciting minors for sex after an undercover operation in which law enforcement officers posed as 13- and 14-year-olds on the internet.
Sheriff Mike Williams on Monday announced the results of Operation Watchdog, conducted with Northeast Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force members who spent five days last week posing as minors on social media and in chat rooms.
The men, including Benjamin, used apps like Meet Me and Grindr to lure users they thought were children for sex, police said.
Benjamin worked for Scott's moving company with Haeft, who said he felt betrayed when he learned a week ago of his former roommate's arrest.
“He was supposed to ride with me to work one morning, and he never came back that night, so I was going online and looked it up to see if he was incarcerated, and he was,” Haeft said.
Haeft said Benjamin never said anything inappropriate about kids and he was on his phone often, but he never would have thought Benjamin was using his phone to solicit children for sex.
“He was very customer service (friendly). He’s not afraid to talk to people. He is not shy at all,” Haeft said. “He was a decent worker. I don’t see where this background of his came forward. I never saw it.”
None of the men arrested had previous sex crimes in their arrest histories, according to the Florida sex offender database.
Another person arrested in the sting was Kyle Parmenter, 24, an assistant to a third-grade teacher at Palencia Elementary School. St. Johns County school officials said he was hired in October after his background check came back clean. The school district suspended Parmenter with pay after his arrest.
News4Jax went to Parmenter's home Tuesday, but no one opened the door.
The Clay County and St. Johns County sheriff's offices, Orange Park police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney's Office all assisted in the case.
Another arrest made in Operation Watchdog
A 22nd arrest was made Tuesday afternoon in connection with Operation Watchdog.
James Pettey responded to an online advertisement about a 13-year-old girl and then communicated with an undercover detective, who he believed was the teenager's stepmother, about meeting the girl for sex, according to police.
Pettey, 30, was taken into custody at his place of employment in Baymeadows, police said.
Keeping kids safe
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 1 in 25 youths has been contacted by a predator who wanted to meet in person, making it critical that parents talk to their kids about these dangers.
Child advocates said predators are also known to use apps like Snapchat, Kik messenger, Tinder and Whisper.
Haeft offered a warning for anyone with a new roommate to be cautious.
“Make sure you really know somebody before you take them in,” he said. “I thought I'd try to do a good deed and take care of him for a little bit, and it didn’t work out, obviously.”
For parents interested in more information, the Justice Department has a searchable national database of child predators.
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