A 39-year-old Parrish, Florida man was arrested at a boat ramp in Manatee County a few weeks ago and charged with one count of traveling to meet a minor and child pornography in addition to six counts of transmission of harmful material to a minor by electronic device, a charge brought about supposedly by a month long investigation conducted by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office alleges that the man’s Facebook activity caught their eye back in August. A sheriff’s office spokesman said the activity lead to a detective posing as a 13-year-old boy on Facebook.
According to Bradenton.com, the man directed several comments to the undercover detective, who he thought was a teen, that were sexually explicit. A sheriff’s office report stated the man sent numerous pornographic images of himself to the undercover agent.
A meeting was allegedly arranged at the boat ramp and the man was arrested at the location without incident.
The sheriff’s office supposedly had an arrest warrant in tow based on the images that the man allegedly sent.
The government takes Internet Sex Crimes involving children quite serious and without the aid of an aggressive sex crimes defense attorney, this man could face hefty prison terms. Traveling to meet a minor is a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,000. The minimum sentence a judge can impose for this crime is 21 months behind bars. Florida criminal statutes make transmission of material harmful to a minor a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison for every image sent. This means the government can charge multiple counts for a series of images transmitted to a minor. If a sizable amount of material was communicated, charges can rack up quickly.
With numerous social networking sites rising in popularity for anyone with access to the Internet, law enforcement officials are increasing their efforts to snare supposed illegal activity by increasing their knowledge of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkdIn and MySpace. Undercover agents are trained to navigate the sites and befriend suspects in the hopes of collecting evidence against them by creating false profiles to gain access to their personal profiles and communicate with them, target their personal postings, photographs and video clips and spotlight other social relationships and networks. Investigators are also using these social media tools to check suspects’ alibis about their whereabouts. Police can reference status updates, tweets and photos or videos to link suspects, friends or relatives to criminal activity.
Close to a decade ago, police officials were using AOL and MSN chat rooms as their muse for nabbing suspected sexual predators, but compared to today’s technology and social sites those text-only chat services are considered old-school. Social networking sites nowadays boast loads of potential evidence like photos, audio and video clips to assist with undercover sex traps in comparison to the old methods.
While it is known that police use these sites for undercover sex stings by creating false accounts, it is not known how far is too far. Facebook’s rules specify that users cannot create or use fake accounts and sites like Twitter and MySpace prohibit the submission of false information. These rules create the legal argument that if agents violate the terms of service associated with social networks then it could constitute illegal activity. The Florida Sex Crimes Attorneys at Whittel & Melton advise all social media users to keep a close eye on what information they post as well as who they allow to see their personal information.
If you or someone you care for faces charges associated with an undercover Internet sex sting in Manatee County or throughout the state of Florida, contact the Florida Sex Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton online 24/7 or dial our Tampa office at 813-221-3200 statewide and toll-free at 1-866-608-5LAW (5529).
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