DELTONA, Fla. – A 29-year-old Cocoa Beach man accused of portraying himself as a minor online to have sex with a 12-year-old girl was arrested Saturday by Volusia County deputies after a detective reportedly assumed a false identity of their own to lure him in.
Brandon Donato was handcuffed around 10:15 p.m., having been met with law enforcement in a Deltona parking lot that he drove to under pretenses he would be meeting the young victim to have sex with her for a third time, the sheriff’s office said in a news release. Those pretenses were influenced by undercover investigators within the sheriff’s office when a detective took the girl’s place Saturday in an ongoing conversation she and Donato were having on Instagram, the release states.
The two had met on a different app called “Wink,” what the sheriff’s office referenced as “a social networking and friendship app for kids 13 and up that has been described as ‘Tinder for teens,’” according to the release. The girl told detectives that she thought she was chatting with a 17-year-old named Brandon Smith.
Investigators said they were made aware of Donato on Friday after the girl’s family found out she had shared videos from her phone of sex acts with the 29-year-old. Further review of the girl’s phone revealed the conversation and “an ongoing series of sexually explicit messages and descriptions of what they’d done” contained therein, the sheriff’s office said.
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Also seen in the messages was Donato’s interest in meeting again with the 12-year-old, following two previous rendezvous July 10 and 12 which investigators tied Donato to via the victim’s statements and county license plate readers, according to the release. The detective who assumed the victim’s place in the conversation arranged for that third meeting, as Donato was led to believe, the sheriff’s office said.
Multiple deputies, detectives and at least one K-9 unit were waiting for Donato’s arrival, as seen on body-camera video of the 29-year-old’s arrest that the sheriff’s office has since made public.
Donato was booked just after midnight and faces charges of showing obscene material to a minor, promoting the sexual performance of a child, using a computer to solicit a child, traveling to meet after using a computer to solicit a child, unlawful use of a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony and two counts of lewd or lascivious battery on a child. He’s being held on $350,000 bond at the Volusia County Branch Jail, records show.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood in a statement encouraged all parents and guardians of children to closely monitor their wards’ online activities.
“Today, thanks to the quick work of everyone involved in this case, there’s one less predator out there exploiting the same apps our kids use,” Chitwood said. “Unfortunately there are many more waiting for their own opportunity. Everyone should take the time and make the effort to protect our kids from predators who want to steal their childhood.”
The news release included a link to a list of social media and networking apps popular with children on ProtectYoungEyes.com, as well as links to sheriff’s office safety guides, such as one for sexual abuse prevention curricula.
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