Operation Home Alone
On January 23rd, 2014, a joint “Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force” commenced a four-day child predator investigation under the moniker “Operation Home Alone.” Twelve law enforcement officers from a wide range of agencies participated in the effort, all working 12 hour shifts. These state and federal agencies included the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Clearwater Police Department, the FBI, the FDLE, and even the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
This investigation resulted in the arrests of 35 men who were charged with a variety of felony charges that included “traveling to meet a minor,” and “seduction of a child via the Internet.” As expected, most persons arrested were first time offenders and lacked any prior criminal history record.
At the conclusion of this sting operation, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the media that the “operation was the largest of its kind in Pinellas County” and that he “viewed this as the number one public safety issue in Pinellas right now.” The Sheriff announced that these offenses have now taken priority over the local “pain pill epidemic” and he promised that additional efforts to curb sexual predator activity would continue.
Gualtieri is committed to expending further resources for child sex sting operations. On April 10th, 2014 the Sheriff’s Department again partnered with other agencies and completed a second four-day investigation. This time the effort was given the code name “Operation Guardian.”
Undercover investigators posed online as preteen and teenage girls (between the ages of 12 and 15.) They visited Internet chat rooms and were active in a multitude of websites. Law enforcement likewise incorporated the services of Backpage.com and Craigslist. As a result, an additional 18 men were arrested. At the conclusion of the sting operation Gualtieri again announced to the media “We’ll continue to do these, until we make a dent in this.”
The criminal investigation of Internet seduction of children can be a tricky endeavor. A review of the media articles and videos in this blog will reveal that local undercover officers are often forced to simultaneously communicate online with over ten targets at the same time.
This practice is evocative of an airport traffic controller who is entrusted with maintaining a spontaneous, yet accurate line of communication between numerous pilots. However, there is a big distinction between these two forms of multi-tasking. Airport traffic controllers are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration only after a significant amount of classroom instruction, simulation training and a regimented series of qualification and testing. On the other hand, some of our local law enforcement officers appear to have undergone training contemporaneously with the recent sting operations themselves. In other words, they “learned on the job.”
Let’s Carefully Review Both the Police Tactics & the Evidence
The criminal defense attorneys in our office are former state prosecutors and very familiar with the tactics and maneuvers used by undercover investigators who attempt to snare individuals for the offenses of “Internet Seduction of a Child,” or “Traveling to Meet a Minor.” A careful examination of the Internet transcripts in your case is critical to achieving the best possible outcome in your case.
Law enforcement will often attempt to employ suggestive language designed to elicit an unguarded or incriminatory online comment by our clients. But, these wholesale ”sting” operations can sometimes place an undercover law enforcement officer in the precarious position of having to juggle all of his ongoing online conversations simultaneously and to keep his side of the communication within the boundaries permitted by a lawful investigation. Here are some essential questions to reflect upon when assessing law enforcement’s online communications in your particular case:
- Did the undercover police officer cause you to make an unintended response or take inadvertent action?
- Did law enforcement confuse part of your online conversation with that of another target?
- Was there a misuse of language or vaguely worded phrases that could have confused you?
- Did the police intentionally use words or vernacular that could have taken on a double meaning?
- Did the police intentionally or unintentionally “intertwine conversations” or employ rapid-fire banter that was designed to make it appear as if one your responses was connected to a distinctly different point of discussion?
- Have the police attempted to utilize insignificant or inoffensive words written by you and cloak them in an incriminating context?
Other Defenses to Online Seduction of a Minor for Sex
We need to explore if an entrapment defense is appropriate in your case. Perhaps we can challenge the origination and admissibility of the online messages that are alleged to have come from your computer. Were you merely “role playing?” Did you lack the prerequisite “criminal intent” to have committed the criminal offense of “online seduction of a minor for sex” or “traveling to meet a minor?”
The lawyers in our office handle cases at the Pinellas County Justice Center on a daily basis. Call us to Schedule a free consultation.
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Internet Seduction of Child