NINE MEN ARRESTED FOR TRAVELING TO MEET A MINOR FOR SEX

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.

THE CHARGES TYPICALLY FACED ALONG WITH A NEW ADDITIONAL CHARGE

The charges the state of Florida will bring against the 9 accused in operation “Downpour” are extremely severe.  The charges are governed by Florida State Statute 847, Obscenity.  This operation also took things a step further and charged each individual with Attempted Lewd and Lascivious Behavior, which until recently has not been charged locally.  The Attempted Lewd or Lascivious Battery charge is governed by Florida State Statute 800, Lewdness and Indecent Exposure.

TRAVELING TO MEET A MINOR, Florida State Statute 847.0135(4).—Any person who travels any distance either within this state, to this state, or from this state by any means, who attempts to do so, or who causes another to do so or to attempt to do so for the purpose of engaging in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child after using a computer online service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to:

(a) Seduce, solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to engage in any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in other unlawful sexual conduct with a child; or

(b) Solicit, lure, or entice or attempt to solicit, lure, or entice a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child or a person believed to be a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child to consent to the participation of such child in any act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in any sexual conduct, commits a felony of the second degree.

If any of the individuals in this operation are convicted of Traveling to Meet a Minor, they will face an adjudication of guilt (convicted felon), up to 15 years in Florida State Prison, and register as a sex offender or possibly as a sexual predator for the rest of their life.

CERTAIN USES OF COMPUTER SERVICES OR DEVICES PROHIBITED. Florida State Statute 847.0135—Any person who knowingly uses a computer online service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to:

(a) Seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice, a child or another person believed by the person to be a child, to commit any illegal act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in any unlawful sexual conduct with a child or with another person believed by the person to be a child; or

(b) Solicit, lure, or entice, or attempt to solicit, lure, or entice a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child or a person believed to be a parent, legal guardian, or custodian of a child to consent to the participation of such child in any act described in chapter 794, chapter 800, or chapter 827, or to otherwise engage in any sexual conduct, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. Any person who, in violating this subsection, misrepresents his or her age, commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. Each separate use of a computer online service, Internet service, local bulletin board service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission wherein an offense described in this section is committed may be charged as a separate offense.

The Florida State Legislature passed this law to be able to go after the individuals who may seek out a minor using a computer, smart phone, or other electronic device to seek a minor, yet not even travel to meet with a minor.  If convicted, an individual can face up to five years in Florida State Prison.

LEWD OR LASCIVIOUS BATTERY: Florida State Statute 800.04(4) A person commits lewd or lascivious battery by:

a. Engaging in sexual activity with a person 12 years of age or older but less than 16 years of age; or

 

b. 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.

What is most interesting about Law Enforcement’s approach to adding this particular charge is there are certain defense’s that are not permitted to be raised such as:

  1. The victim’s lack of chastity
  2. The victim’s consent
  3. The ignorance of the victim’s real age

None of the listed defensen’s may be utilized as a lawful defense to a Lewd or Lasvious Battery.  Further, Law Enforcement and the State of Florida typically must list a real victim on this particular charge.  As is the case in all of these stings, there is no real underage victim, just an officer or agent pretending to be an underage child.

Have You Been Charged with a Serious Criminal Offense or Sex Crime in Florida?   

Please give the Forbess Law Firm, 904-634-0900, a call for a free consultation.   Our firm, as well as most other established North Florida criminal defense attorneys,  handles sex crimes  including Traveling to Meet a Minor, Sexual Battery, Kidnapping, Lewd and Lascivious Battery or Molestation, Possession of Child Pornography, and Transmission of Harmful Material to a Minor, on a daily basis in Duval (Jacksonville), Nassau, Clay, Baker, St. Johns, Bradford, Volusia, Flagler, Putnam  and other surrounding counties.  Further, upon the arrest of yourself or a loved one, our law firm is always available to argue for a reasonable bond in First Appearance Court or a Motion to Reduce Bond on an outstanding warrant.  Our office is conveniently located within two blocks of the Duval County Jail.  Also we can travel to you or your family for a free consultation.  We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to represent you and your loved ones.

https://www.news4jax.com/news/florida/st-johns-county/operation-downpour-9-men-arrested-in-undercover-child-sex-stingnine

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