Some offered to bring drugs and others sent photos, but all 21 came to Sarasota County with the intent to have sex with a child, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.
The sheriff's office announced Tuesday that 21 people have been arrested as part of Operation Intercept V, a six-day initiative to "protect children in Sarasota County from online predators."
All of the men arrested traveled with intent to have sex with a boy or girl, according to the sheriff's office.
Of those arrested, one was from Hialeah Gardens, four were from Bradenton and 10 were from Sarasota, with the rest from Englewood, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Davenport, North Port and Venice. They ranged in age from 22 to 58 years old with a total of more than 60 felony charges among them, officials noted.
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A man from Davenport, 24-year-old Albert Vira III, worked as a diesel mechanic at Walt Disney World, Sheriff Tom Knight said during a news conference Tuesday. Vira promised to stay with who he thought was a 14-year-old girl if he were to get her pregnant, according to the sheriff's office. The girl Vira believed he was talking to was a detective. Vira worked for Disney until late September 2017, according to a company official.
Those arrested responded to ads on the internet, online applications or social media sites and had sexually explicit conversations with who they thought was a minor between 12 and 14 years old, according to the sheriff's office.
When the men arrived to meet the detectives posing as children, four of the men brought condoms while others offered to bring drugs, according to the sheriff's office. Many of the men sent explicit photos.
"A handful of these offenders traveled from throughout the state, as far south as Miami. My concern is that over half of them were from here in Sarasota County," Knight said of those arrested.
The man from Hialeah Gardens was charged with use of a computer to solicit a child to commit a sex act and traveling to solicit a child to commit sex acts.
Miguel A. Jimenez, 22, chatted with an undercover deputy using a screen name on the "Meet Me" application, according to a probable cause affidavit. He agreed to bring condoms with him when meeting what he thought was a 14-year-old for sex. Jimenez also asked the deputy to send a photo to "make sure you want this," according to the affidavit.
Around 1:20 a.m. on May 21, Jimenez came from Manatee County to Sarasota County to meet with the deputy, whom he believed to be a teenager. Sheriff Knight said the sheriff's office has focused on operations such as this for years.
Since 2013, more than 100 predators have been removed from the streets of Sarasota County, Knight said. He added that his office would continue to do operations like this and encouraged parents to keep an eye on their children on social media.
"You would think the frequency of Internet predator operations here in Sarasota County and surrounding jurisdictions would reduce the number of criminals prowling online for the sole purpose of sexually exploiting children," Knight said. "Unfortunately, for some reason, they still think it’s OK to disrupt our community and the children within it. Let this be a reminder for parents to stay cognizant of what their children are doing in this new age of technology. Remember to be a parent. It’s OK to ask questions."
The sheriff's office noted nine social media applications frequently used by children that can be utilized by those looking to exploit children.
▪ Bumble, a dating app
▪ Snapchat, a photo, video and chat app
▪ Kik, a messaging app
▪ LiveMe, a live-streaming video app where users can earn "coins" to "pay" for photos
▪ Holla, a video chat app
▪ Whisper, an anonymous social network
▪ Ask.FM, an anonymous chat app
▪ Calculator%, a secret app used to hide photos, videos, files or browser history
▪ Hot or Not, a chat and "hook-up" app