NINE MEN ARRESTED IN ST. JOHNS COUNTY IN OPERATION DOWNPOUR, ARRANGING FOR SEX WITH MINORS

A recent News4Jax story gives details into a recent investigation completed by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.  The news release states that nine men ranging from the ages of 18 to 34 utilized the internet to meet and engage underage girls for purposes of having sexual activity.  As is common in these types of stings, an undercover law enforcement officer posed as the underage girl.  All nine men traveled to a predetermined location and instead of meeting a young female, were taken into custody by the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.  The investigation was run by a local task force composed of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, State Attorney’s Office for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, St. Augustine Beach Police Department, Orange Park Police Department and the St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office.

Operation “Downpour” resulted in arrests of individuals from different walks of life.  As stated earlier there were men from ages 18 to 34 arrested.  One individual, Clarence Thomas, appears to have been arrested in a prior case in 2015 for Unlawful Sexual Activity with a minor.  The article also describes Thomas as a former part time Football Coach at Westside High School as well as being a former Corrections Officer.  The operation also resulted in the arrest of Raymond Wygant, who is an active military member assigned to the 7th Infantry Division as a Defense System Operator.  Operations like “Downpour” can catch literally anyone who has access to the internet who seeks underage children.  This crime literally attracts all walks of life.  These cases are commonly referred to as “Travelers,” in the court system.

These sting operations typically include an overwhelming amount of evidence against the accused.  The conversation itself is normally very straight forward in which the undercover agents will clearly state that they are underage.  In this sting, the undercovers posed girls under the age of 15.  The undercovers will log into dating websites or chatrooms and begin conversations with the potential suspects online.  The online conversation itself will be evidence used against the accused.  Details such as what will happen when the meeting will occur, what to bring, and where to meet will all be discussed.  The accused next will arrive at a pre-determined meeting but will not meet with a minor, but however will be taken into custody by a takedown team.  Any items previously requested by the undercover that the accused brought to the pre-arranged meet will also be submitted into evidence.  These items will be used in a trial to show that not only did the accused agree to meet for sex, but also brought the requested items to show there is not mistake in the accused’s mind as to the reason for the meet.

Other things that will be considered by a jury is the distance a person travels to meet a minor.  Matthew Brown traveled from Gainesville, Florida.  Brown’s defense will have to explain why Brown happened to travel all the way from Gainesville to St. Johns and arrived at the exact location given by the undercover.  Other charges may arise out of the online conversation itself as often times the individuals seeking sex with a minor send nude photographs of themselves to the undercover agents.

Also what is important to note is that Law Enforcement waits until the operation is ended to post any information regarding the arrests as to hopefully not tip off any future suspects about the sting.  The individuals charged will not even appear in the Jail Inmate Screen until after the press conference. Continue reading

NO VIOLENCE, NO BURGLARIES OR ROBBERIES

As 2018 draws to a close, it is a time of giving for many people and businesses here in Jacksonville and the North Florida area.  A handful of seemingly successful people are facing charges or have entered pleas to charges of theft, embezzlement, schemes to defraud, insurance fraud and theft of government funds. If someone included in this post has entered a plea the the charges, that person no longer enjoys the presumption of innocence and is awaiting sentencing.  All others mentioned, who have not entered pleas, are entitled to the continued presumption of innocence and to the assistance of their counsel.  These particular defendants all happen to be well educated. They all made salaries above the local  average standard of living.  Most took advantage of being  placed into a position of trust, had access to some form of cash or disbursements,  and lastly, a few operated in  organizations that were grossly incompetent in the area of basic internal accounting controls.  There is absolutely no violence in these alleged crimes. No victim had their car burglarized, home or business burglarized or a gun stuck in their face as they went to an ATM.  These crimes took place, per reading the reports, by simple email correspondence or mainly by the filling out of paperwork on nothing more than 8 1/2 x11 copy paper. It is doubtful that any of these defendants ever had even the slightest criminal record, otherwise, they would not have held their former pre-arrest positions.  These were crimes of opportunity. These cases always have a paper trail and are difficult to defend.  The cases can be prosecuted by the Federal Government or State of Florida.

“STEALING WHEN I SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUYING” ( ROCK BAND URIAH HEEP, 1973)

Three of the largest series of fraud and thefts locally, as charged,  involved the the setting up of false vendors with subsequent false invoices, for goods and or services that never existed,  that one’s employer, client or SBA loan administrator would then disburse funds against.  Two former Jacksonville City Council members are are, so far, heading to trial in a case where an SBA loan and a loan from the city of Jacksonville were granted for a business to produce and market Barbeque sauce. Here is that indictment. Again these defendants are presumed innocent are all represented by very competent attorneys.  In St. Johns County, the highest ranking civilian employee of the Sheriff’s office reportedly stole around $700,000 over several years. She is accused of creating fake vendors, issuing fake purchase orders, creating fake invoices, approving disbursements/payments against those invoices and then mailing the government checks to a couple of addresses she supplied.  She was reportedly stealing, among other  grant money that was allocated by the federal government to fight the opioid addiction crisis in St. Johns County. Two coworkers apparently turned her in.  She was never suspected of any wrongdoing as a result of an audit. The Sheriff, David Shoar, seemed crushed by this woman’s arrest. She had been at the agency since she started in her teens, obtained a bachelor’s degree and eventually became the top administrative civilian as finance director. For years her office was steps away from the Sheriff and she was on a direct reporting basis to him. This case will be prosecuted in state court in St. Augustine, however, the investigation was done by the Polk County Sheriff’s office and the prosecutor assigned is from a completely different circuit, the 10th circuit, on what is called a Governor’s Assignment to eliminate even the perception of impropriety.  The Sheriff also thinks the department will somehow recover the almost $700,000 even when the investigation determined that only $9,000 remained. Per the news articles the defendant worked around 15 feet from the Sheriff in an office close to his and when confronted supposedly stated she had a “spending addiction.” Continue reading

JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE ARRESTS 17 MEN FOR ATTEMPTING TO HAVE SEX WITH MINORS

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams held a press conference on September 4, 2018, to discuss the arrest of 17 men after running an online sting operation in which undercover detectives posed as minor children.  Sheriff Williams stated the operation was named “DUVAL,” an acronym for Disrupting Underage Virtual Abuse Locally.  The operation involved over a dozen local and federal law enforcement agencies. This is according to a news report.

As often happens in sting operations like “DUVAL,” a wide spectrum of individuals were arrested.  The men’s ages range from 19 to 67, and some lived locally in Jacksonville, while some traveled from out of State.  Sheriff Williams stated that one of the individuals charged is a convicted sexual offender.  The Sheriff also discussed certain suspects by name and stated “there may not be any fixing these people.”  Edward Stanley who is 60 years old and is stated to currently work for the Department of Defense in North Carolina as a victim advocate was one of the individuals arrested for traveling to meet a 14 year old girl for sex.  These cases are commonly referred to as “Travelers,” in the court system.

These sting operations typically include an overwhelming amount of evidence against the accused.  The conversation itself is normally very straight forward in which the undercover agents will clearly state that they are underage.  In this sting, the undercovers posed as 13-14 year old boys or girls.  The undercovers will log into dating websites such as OkCupid and begin conversations with the potential suspects online.  The online conversation itself will be evidence used against the accused.  Details such as what will happen when the meeting will occur, what to bring, and where to meet will all be discussed.  The accused next will arrive at a pre-determined meeting but will not meet with a minor, but however will be taken into custody by a takedown team.  Any items previously requested by the undercover that the accused brought to the pre-arranged meet will also be submitted into evidence.  These items will be used in a trial to show that not only did the accused agree to meet for sex, but also brought the requested items to show there is not mistake in the accused’s mind as to the reason for the meet.

Other things that will be considered by a jury is the distance a person travels to meet a minor.  Mohammed Malek traveled from Tallahassee, Florida.  Malek’s defense will have to explain why Malek happened to travel all the way from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and arrived at the exact location given by the undercover.  Other charges may arise out of the online conversation itself as often times the individuals seeking sex with a minor send nude photographs of themselves to the undercover agents.

Also what is important to note is that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office waits until the operation is ended to post any information regarding the arrests as to hopefully not tip off any future suspects about the sting.  The individuals charged will not even appear in the Jail Screen until after the press conference. Continue reading

Local Bible School Teacher Arrested

Robert Russell Browning, according to a news report, was arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on a warrant on August 4, 2018.  Browning was arrested for Lewd or Lascivious Battery (second degree felony), Lewd or Lascivious Molestation- Victim 12 years but less than 16, Defendant 18 or older (second degree felony), and Transmission of Material Harmful to a Minor to a Minor by Electric Device or Equipment (third degree felony).  Browning was employed at the Cedar Creek Christian School as a Bible School Teacher.  Some of the alleged events occurred on school grounds.  Cedar Creek has terminated Browning’s employment after the arrest.  The warrant had bonds set at $100,003.00, $100,003.00, and $50,003.00.

The arrest warrant affidavit and News4Jax article give details into the investigation as well as what lead to the eventual arrest of Browning.  The victim in the case is older than 12 years and younger than 16 years of age.  It is not known at this time if the victim attended the school or just the church.  The victim’s father discovered the inappropriate relationship when he went through his daughter’s phone.  Contained in text messages were nude photos and inappropriate text messages between the victim and Browning.  The father immediately contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office to investigate.

The arrest affidavit gives details into what the victim described happened during the inappropriate relationship.  The victim stated that she and Browning had exchanged nude photographs to each other.  The two also “facetimed,” one another in the nude using the cell phones.  A forensic download was conducted of the victim’s phone to preserve evidence.  Further the phone number used by Browning was confirmed to belong to Browning.  The victim also was able to identify Browning’s private parts in one of the text messaged pictures.

Further into the interview with the victim it was discovered that the relationship with Browning was more than just text messages and video phone calls.  The victim stated that while on the premises of the Church, the victim had performed consensual oral sex on Browning.  While the victim was performing, Browning rubbed the private parts of the victim.  The download of the victim’s phone also contained text conversations between the victim and Browning discussing the two engaging in oral sex.

The State of Florida currently has three charges to prove against Browning.  There is always the possibility that the State of Florida may add additional charges if more evidence is discovered.   The first count, Lewd and Lascivious Battery is defined in Florida State Statute 800.04(4)(b).  That statute states a person commits lewd or lascivious battery by:

  1. Engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age; or
  2. Encouraging, forcing, or enticing any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sadomasochistic abuse, sexual bestiality, prostitution, or any other act involving sexual activity.

Sexual activity is defined  as the oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object; however, sexual activity does not include an act done for a bona fide medical purpose.

The State will rely on the victim’s statements as well as the text message conversations between the victim and Browning to prove element one.  Only one element is required to be proven, and the State of Florida likely will be able to show that the victim and Browning likely did engage in Sexual Activity together when the victim performed the oral sex act on Browning.  Also what is important to note, consent of the victim does not matter in regards to this Statute.  The fact that the victim consented to performing a sex act on Browning is not a defense.  This is based on the age of the victim.  In fact the statute even lists consent as a “Prohibited Defense.” (Fla State Statute 800.04(1)(2).

In count two, Lewd or Lascivious Molestation- Victim 12 years but less than 16, Defendant 18 or older the State of Florida will have to prove Florida State Statute 800.04(5)(c)2.  This statute states: An offender 18 years of age or older who commits lewd or lascivious molestation against a victim less than 12 years or age or older but less than 16 years of age.   Here the State of Florida will easily be able to establish the ages of both the victim and Browning.  Browning’s arrest report lists his age at 59.  This charge deals with Browning’s touching of the victim.  Based on the evidence released thus far, the victim’s word is what the State of Florida will rely on.  Clearly the State has text messages to back up other parts of the case, however the Affidavit does not detail whether the text messages obtained discussed Browning touching the victim. Continue reading

SMART PHONES ARE JUST SMALL COMPUTERS, SUBJECT TO IMPULSIVE ACTIONS

Cell phones today serve many utilitarian functions besides being a communications device.  One can summon a ride, execute stock trades, research potential vendors, get insurance coverage, write an obituary, buy flight tickets or share photos with friends and family and a myriad of other tasks.  As this technology has become commonplace and accessible even to children, a new world of internet crimes also has arisen. Historically, this is nothing new.  New technology has brought new crimes before.  In the past, we had train robberies occur once the rails went across America. Likewise, we never had obscene phone calls until we had phones.  In this blog, this writer will discuss in general terms, based upon cases our office has actually defended, what types of cell phone behavior, under Florida law, gets people arrested.

SENDING A TEXT TO SOMEONE THREATENING TO KILL THEM

This is usually an highly impulsive act committed by a person who is almost always highly emotional and maybe drunk or stoned.  This falls under Florida Statute 836.10, is a second degree felony and scores prison under the Florida criminal scoresheet regarding punishment.  Prison time, for someone with no record, has been 1-2 years.  Also, a charge of this nature is like batting practice to a prosecutor.  Usually there is a series of texts to the same victim and since texts never disappear, the screen shots of the texts are simply provided to the defense attorney in discovery.  It is this writer’s experience that the cell phone being constantly on one’s person takes away the timeframe where the soon to be accused would have to get in front of a desktop computer.  Perhaps a slight delay could give a person time to calm down.  These cases also usually involve a very scared victim coming into court and stating their fears on the record at a sentencing hearing.

IF ON PROBATION, DON’T POST GUN AND WEED PICTURES OR HOMEMADE GUN TOTING RAP VIDEOS

This type of violation of probation is almost comical.  If one is on felony probation in Florida, they are not supposed to be around guns, dope or anyone committing crimes.  The cases this writer has seen of this nature are usually somebody getting even with the probationer.  More than one ex-girlfriend has reported her ex-boyfriend to his probation officer concerning acts which could violate him.  The defense will try to argue that the pics or videos occurred before the defendant went on probation.  The state attorney will bring the ex-girlfriend in to testify that the recording took place while the fellow was on probation.  A violation of probation does not mean the state attorney has to prove the violation beyond a reasonable doubt.  All that is needed is that the probationer willfully and substantially violated probation, and is decided by the Judge not a jury.

EXTORTION

Many couples, as part of their dating relationships, send pictures of themselves to their significant other.  Pictures can be transmitted within seconds but the repercussions of a picture or video containing nudity can last a lifetime.  Usually the unsuspecting person sending a picture of themselves has not thought it through that this image never goes away and is subject to being posted worldwide by the other person. Sometimes the person with pictures of the other will try to apply leverage for a continued relationship, money or special purchases, or simply to disgrace the other party. Very simply, one person demands something out of the other person, or else the pictures and videos are going internet wide.  These demands are usually communicated by text messaging to the victim and the state attorney has a very easy case to present.  Extortion under Florida law is a second degree felony and can carry up to a 15 year sentence. Continue reading

19 YEAR OLD MALE STUDENT ARRESTED

A college student was arrested by the University of North Florida Police Department after a victim and witness reported Cage William Edwards had threatened the victim with a gun.  The recently released Arrest and Booking sheet gives details into the investigation and arrest of Edwards on October 20, 2017.  The incident occurred in the dorms located on campus at UNF.  Per the report, the victim states that he heard a knock on his door and when he answered the door the victim observed Edwards standing by the door holding a black semi-automatic handgun.  Upon the victim opening the door, Edwards pointed the handgun at the victim’s chest and pulled the trigger.  The victim describes hearing a clicking sound when the trigger was pulled.

The victim contacted a friend who lives a few rooms down through the social media outlet “Snap-Chat.”  At the victim’s request the friend came over to the victim’s dorm room.  While walking the friend passed by Edwards’ dorm room which had the door open.  The friend observed through the open door, Edwards with a lot of marijuana, money, and a black semi-automatic handgun in plain view on the floor.  After the friend arrived at the victim’s dorm room, the two decided to go to the on campus police station.

Upon arriving at the UNF police station the victim and friend told the officers what had happened and what they had each observed.  Further, the friend stated to the police that Edwards and the friend share “Snap-Chat,” videos online.  The friend was able to provide videos of Edwards smoking marijuana and possessing a black semi-automatic handgun in what appears to be the dorm room Edwards resides in.

UNF PD responded to Edwards’ dorm room and detained him.  Edwards’ gave consent to search the dorm room as well as Edwards’ motor vehicle.  The search revealed Marijuana in Edwards’ front pocket, a black box with marijuana residue, a glass pipe with residue, several baggies with marijuana residue, plastic jars with marijuana residue, several containers with marijuana residue, wax paper with marijuana residue, and a black gun safe.  When asked about the gun safe, Edwards stated that he did not have a key to access the safe.  Per the report, a firearm was not recovered by the Police.

UNF PD interviewed Edwards about the incident.  Pursuant to Florida’s public records law confessions or statements from suspects must be redacted.  It appears Edwards denied having the gun or anything illegal on campus when asked twice by the authorities.  The next part is redacted, which leads one to believe that some form of confession was made regarding either the marijuana or gun involved in the case.  It appears Edwards gave the name of “Yobi” as being a student at UNF, but not living on campus.  It is not clear at this time as to what “Yobi’s” involvement in the case is, or if a “Yobi” actually exists.

What is also not clear based on the report is any motive or explanation for Edwards’ actions.  It is unclear if the victim knows Edwards, or if there had been an ongoing dispute between Edwards and the victim.

After the search and interviews Edwards was arrested for Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Possession of Less than 20 grams of Cannabis (Marijuana), and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. Continue reading

 

DRYWALL POWDER WRONGFULLY DETERMINED TO BE COCAINE BY FLAWED FIELD TEST

A Jacksonville.com story gives details into a tragic case in which an innocent man remained jailed for 90 days on suspicion of possession of cocaine.  The case is out of Oviedo, Florida near Orlando.  Karlos Cashe was pulled over by law enforcement for driving a motor vehicle without headlights.  During the traffic stop the officers used a police K9 to conduct a sniff of the vehicle to determine the presence of any illegal narcotics in the vehicle.  After a positive alert by the K9, a search took place in which a white powdery substance was recovered.  Cashe informed the officers numerous times that the powdery substance was drywall.  The officers however field tested the substance which tested positive for cocaine.  The story also clearly points out that the officers ran the background of Cashe and saw that Cashe was currently on probation for possession of cocaine and cannabis.  The officers knew any new arrest would suffice to violate Cashe’s probation.

Mr. Cashe was certainly at the mercy of system in his current arrest.  The way the system is set up is how an innocent man was forced to sit for ninety days behind bars.  When an individual is on probation and they violate their probation for what is considered a “new law violation,” they are not entitled to a bond.  Often times their bond will in fact be set at none.  In Cashe’s case he was forced to sit behind bars while the suspected cocaine was sent off to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Chemistry lab for analysis.  Unfortunately for Mr. Cashe or anyone else in his  situation, the labs typically are backed up due too under funding and the sheer number of cases they are assigned.  As Cashe knew himself and tried to explain to the officers, the substance was not cocaine. This writer and many other defense attorneys are very skeptical of an officer stating that the drug dog “alerted” on the car.  Here, for example, has the dog been trained to alert on drywall powder? If not, what was causing the dog to alert? Who knows if the dog alerted at all?  Cashe most probably, based on this writer’s experience, aggravated the officers by not consenting to a search of his vehicle. If he had consented to a search, the drug dog and its handler would not have been called to the scene as they were not necessary.

HOW HE SAT IN JAIL 90 DAYS

So why did Cashe have to sit behind bars so long?  Case law has long been established that field test kits for narcotics are allowed to be utilized to determine probable cause to arrest an individual.  The simple fact that Cashe was on probation is why he was held with no bond.  The obvious questions that this blogger has start with the date on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chemistry report that exonerated Cashe.  I am certainly curious to know how much longer did an innocent Mr. Cashe sit behind bars after the report was completed.  Furthermore, how long was Mr. Cashe sitting behind bars before the suspected cocaine was even sent to the chemist?  These are all questions that will likely be answered in a non- criminal courtroom. Continue reading

BURGLARS UNIDENTIFIED AT PRESENT BUT A CLEAR VIDEO RECORDING EXISTS

A recent News4Jax story is attempting to help catch to car burglars who were captured on home security surveillance system.  The report states that the car burglaries took place on Jacksonville’s Northside.  As is often common in car burglary cases, the car doors were unlocked.  The two men were recorded pulling on car handles, and if unlocked, the two would enter the cars and start rummaging throughout the cars looking for anything of value.  The story stresses to homeowners the importance of removing valuables from your motor vehicles as well as to make sure your car door are locked.

Car burglaries are becoming an all too popular crime.  They can certainly be labeled as a crime of opportunity in that the individuals committing the crimes almost always try and seek cars that have unlocked doors.  The crime is often referred to as “Car Hopping.”  The suspects often times pick areas with lots of cars such as an apartment complex or hotel parking lot.  It only takes one car left unlocked that contains a laptop, I-Pad, or law enforcement’s biggest concern, a firearm. Thefts and Car Burglaries also tend to rise in the summer time.  Law Enforcement typically blames the correlation on the amount of juveniles out of school for the summer.  It is typically a crime committed by juveniles and it is almost always committed with several juveniles working together.

The News4Jax story posted still shots captured on the security cameras of the individuals in the recent car burglary story.  The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will likely receive tips as to the two individuals based on the still shots.  Once identified, the Sheriff’s Office will likely seek a warrant from the State Attorney’s Office for their arrest.  The Sheriff’s Office will also have spoken to the owner of the cars to determine what personal property was stolen.  A pawn search can be conducted once the specific items are determined missing to see if any of the stolen property was in fact pawned.  A serial number is normally the easiest way to prove an item belonging to the victim was pawned.

The charges the two individuals face in the event they are properly identified is Burglary to a Structure or Conveyance, a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000.00 fine.  To prove the crime of Burglary to a Conveyance the State of Florida is required to prove two elements beyond a reasonable doubt.  First the State must prove that the suspect entered a conveyance owned by or in the possession of the victim.  Second, the State must prove at the time of entering the conveyance, the suspect had the intent to commit a crime within that conveyance.What is important to point out regarding the elements of the crime is that for someone to be found guilty of a burglary the State must prove an individual had the intent to commit a crime within the car.  The State will rely on the security camera showing the individuals rummaging through the vehicles as well as the victim’s testimony regarding what items are now missing from the car.  Continue reading

FACES PRISON AND A LIFETIME OF SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION

According to a recent article in the New York Times, former Democratic Congressman and New York City mayoral candidate, Anthony Weiner has entered a guilty plea to a federal charge of obscenity.  Weiner entered his plea in federal court, pleading to a charge of “transferring obscene material to a minor.”  The victim in the case was a 15 yr. old girl in North Carolina. The charge Weiner admitted guilt on carries a 10 year maximum prison sentence although the prosecutor stated a sentence of 21 to 27 months would suffice.  Weiner is not slated for sentencing until September.  If he is to receive a prison sentence the Judge may remand him into custody at that time or let him remain free to get his affairs in order.  In most of the Circuit Courts of Florida, if the defendant pleads guilty or no contest, with no agreed to sentence or conditions, this is called a “straight up plea.” The Court may sentence the defendant to the maximum sentence allowed by law and the defendant cannot simply withdraw his or her plea because of a sudden case of buyer’s remorse.   Also in Florida, if the defendant has no prior felony convictions, the Court will order a Pre-Sentence Investigation, or “PSI’ which is compiled by the Florida Department of Corrections.  In Juvenile Court, the same type of document is provided to the Court, however, it is called a Pre-Disposition Report, or “PDR” which is prepared by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. In a violation of probation case, the probation officer compiles a similar report. The reports focus on the defendant’s upbringing, family situation, drug and alcohol abuse history, education, criminal history, the facts involved in the case at hand(which is usually just a reiteration of the police report), any military service and employment history. These types of reports are prepared to give the courts a background on the defendant and they usually contain a recommendation in the last paragraph as to what the preparer thinks is an appropriate sentence.  The Judge is not bound by these reports or recommendations.

FORFEITED PROPERTY AND FACES LARGE FINE

The terms of the plea agreement show Weiner agreeing to forfeit his I-Phone and being exposed to a monetary fine ranging from $35,000 to $350,000.  The I-Phone is listed by the  serial number and is being seized as it was apparently the communications  device Weiner used to commit the crime.  Seizure and forfeiture of property is very common in Florida criminal cases.  Many times, at the scene of a crime, law enforcement will take a suspect’s phone into evidence. The officer will ask for consent to look into the phone.  If the suspect withholds consent to search, the officer still takes the phone, puts it into evidence and seeks a warrant allowing the contents of the phone to be examined.  It is this writer’s experience, large amounts of cash and nice vehicles are also commonly seized and subject to a civil forfeiture if they can any way be linked to the commission of a felony.  Many firearm or gun crimes cases, for example, are reduced by the filing state attorney to lesser charges; however, any firearm involved in the crime and maybe any other firearms owned by the defendant are typically forfeited as part of the negotiations.  In some of the larger employee theft or embezzlement cases, whatever the defendant has in a 401k retirement account is commonly used in negotiations in a effort to make an up front paydown on the restitution owed. Continue reading

JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE ANNOUNCES THE ARRESTS OF 21 MEN SOLICITING MINORS

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Sheriff Mike Williams held a press conference on May 16, 2017 to announce the arrest of 21 males during an undercover sex sting.  Operation “Watchdog” ran from May 5 through May 8.  The males arrested ranged in age from 21 to 61.  The operation was run by a Joint Task Force including the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Orange Park Police Department and the State Attorney’s Office.  These types of operations are commonly referred to as “To Catch a Predator,” based on the once popular television show.

The sting was run like many others.  Detectives pose on certain social media websites as under age males or females.  While on the websites conversations take place between the undercover detectives and the potential predator.  What will be clear in the conversation is the young age of the individual the undercovers are pretending to be.  In the most recent sting, the undercovers posed as 13 or 14 year old females or males.  In each of the 21 arrested individuals, some promise of sexual intercourse or sexual activity with a minor were promised before the suspects traveled to the target location.  Once the individuals arrived at the target location, they were taken into custody.  Although not detailed in the news reports, it is common for the undercovers to request that the suspects bring special items to the meeting place.  Specific alcohol, candy, food, or even sex props or toys are often thrown out as requests by the undercovers.  This is a great piece of evidence for the State of Florida.  When a suspect is specifically asked to bring a six pack of watermelon wine coolers to drink before sexual activity, and the suspect shows up with that specific request, it is hard for the suspect to explain.