GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- Sixteen men from at least ten different cities and four states were all arrested in Clay County for allegedly traveling to meet a minor for sex.
"It doesn't appear that there's any common denominator with these individuals, however, it does continue to amaze me the great lengths these individuals will go to in hopes of meeting and ultimately exploiting these kids for their own sexual perversions," said Colonel Craig Aldrich of the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
In a five-day online sexual predator sting operation spearheaded in Clay, officers had online conversations with the suspects who arranged meetings with the person they allegedly thought was a minor.
"A lot of times they will start off as another child and then you'll find out they're 44 or 45-years-old but by then they've already engaged with this child and got this child thinking that they really care about them," said Col. Aldrich.
The suspects work in different fields; the food service, truck drivers, and two are active military personnel in the U.S. Army, but officers say most of them have no previous criminal background.
"Many of these guys start looking at pornography and it never satisfies their arousal or their interest so they take it up a notch. Then they start to befriend these kids on the internet, trying to meet with them, trying to have sex with them," said Col. Aldrich.
Detective John Hawkins with Clay County Sheriff's Office is also a detective for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He says this is operation number seven for him and every time an arrest is made the reactions are similar.
"Obviously you see the surprise on their face and they know pretty much it's over; we have them," said Detective Hawkins.
This is the second operation for Clay County in the last two years. Hawkins says the suspects always know the risks of who might be at the other end of the computer monitor, but it's a risk they are willing to take.
"Most of them will tell me they knew they were either going to get robbed, or beat up, or they are going to actually be able to have some sort of sexual activity with a child," added Hawkins.
Hawkins mentioned there is software parents can download to monitor every conversation their child has online.
First Coast News