ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- "It's surprising," Carrie Lewis of St. Augustine said. It's hard for her to believe her neighbor was arrested for soliciting sex from a 14-year-old boy online.
"I've known Richard for years now, and I think he's a really nice guy. He stops and talk to my kids and he's stop to talk to me before," she noted.
Richard Copeland, 47, has been a school bus driver in St. Johns County for 24 years.
He and 14 other men have been arrested in Operation No Soliciting.
For five days last week, undercover investigators posed as 13 and 14 years olds online. Investigators say the suspects set up dates and agreed to meet at a home for sex. The location was really an undercover house in St. Johns County. Deputies arrested the men when they arrived.
St. Johns County Undersheriff Joel Bolante said, "All of the suspects came from different areas, from Florida and Georgia."
The men range in age from 19 to 49.
Copeland, the school bus driver, lives in St. Augustine off of State Road 16. Christina Langston, a spokeswoman for the St. Johns County School District, said, Copeland drives a school bus for special needs children. The bus always had an adult aide ride aboard as well.
Langston said Copeland had a background check when he started 24 years ago. "It's the background check that goes through the FDLE."
Now, Copeland's bus driver job is in jeopardy.
"We immediately suspended him with pay, and we will hold a special school board meeting April 2nd when the superintendent will recommend [Copeland's] termination," Langston explained.
Langston said Copeland did face charges for having an open house party last year. She said the charges were dropped, but that the school board suspended him with pay. He also had to be retrained as a school bus driver before returning to work.
Other men arrested in Operation No Soliciting include one in the Navy, another is a tutor, and there's the college student studying criminal justice.
One other man was arrested from St. Johns County. He' s John Houston Oyler, 29. He lives in the Samara Lakes neighborhood and he is listed as unemployed. Investigators say he was arrested for soliciting a 13-year-old girl.
Undersheriff Bolante said "There was clear evidence that their intent was to meet with that child and have sex."
Bolante said some men showed up a minute and a half apart from one another, forcing officers to work quickly.
First Coast News