OCALA, Fla. – Twelve “evil predators” were arrested in a Marion County child sex sting on suspicion of arranging to have sex with children, Sheriff Billy Woods said Monday at a news conference.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said other local, state and federal agencies assisted in the five-day sting operation, dubbed Dirty Dozen, that was designed “to identify and capture offenders seeking sex with children.”
According to sheriff’s officials, the men made arrangements to meet and have sex with a girl or a boy, ages 13 to 15, in Marion County.
Eight of the 12 men traveled to Marion County and were arrested, while the other four were arrested in Jacksonville, Hernando County, Gainesville and Massachusetts.
“These eight men traveled to a location in Marion County to have sex with the child they thought they had been messaging online,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “Instead, they were met by law enforcement, placed in handcuffs and arrested.”
The four others were arrested on allegations of transmitting harmful material to whom they believed were minors.
During the online interactions, all of the men engaged in lewd conversations with whom they thought was the child and described the sex acts they wanted to perform, the sheriff’s office said. Some of the men also sent sexually explicit photos, according to officials.
Woods said there’s nothing better than waking up in the morning and messing up a bad guy’s day.
“This is where our satisfaction comes in our jobs,” Woods said. “Finding individuals like this. I will always use all my resources to hunt these evil predators down and bring them to justice.”
Woods hammered home the point that these men allegedly wanted to have sex with children.
“Arrangements were made by these individuals to meet your children to have sex with them,” said Woods, addressing parents.” They even sent explicit pictures to your children so that they can meet with them and have sex. And if any of your bleeding hearts out there are thinking that I’m being cruel, you think about being that child.”
Woods told parents they need to know what their children are doing.
“I want to make something clear: You need to be fully aware of where your children are talking online. Look at every single one of these pictures, parents. If you recognize them, if you know the names, call my deputies,” he said. “Don’t be a friend (to your child), be nosy. Watch what they’re looking at. Until they fly that nest and leave your coop, be the parent you’re supposed to be.”
Woods then addressed potential criminals.
“Now, to the would-be vile individuals (who) are doing this and are seeking children in Marion County. Be assured that I will find you. I will put handcuffs on you and I will put you in my jail. My deputies will spend hours upon hours hunting you down. My job is bringing people to justice, but if it was my choice I’d bury you under the jail,” Woods said. “I will always use all my resources to hunt these evil predators down and bring them to justice.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Ocala and Gainesville police and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office assisted in the sting, MCSO said.