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Polk online child predator sting operation nets 41, authorities say

Published:   |   Updated: June 17, 2013 at 02:13 PM

Special to Highlands County

POLK COUNTY - Forty-one suspects were arrested during a weeklong undercover investigation targeting online child predators in Polk County.

Those arrested, in what Polk County authorities describe as the largest undercover operation of its kind in Polk County, includes one female

The suspects allegedly responded to ads and chatted on several social media sites, which included Backpage and Craigslist, with detectives and investigators from 11 other local, state and federal agencies, along with the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

"Despite the fact our detectives have conducted nine of these operations since 2006; despite the extensive media coverage when we talk about the numerous arrests; despite the fact we make no secret about putting suspects in jail - there are those who continue to travel to Polk County to have sex with a child," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "Make no mistake; we will continue to make protecting our children our number one priority. We will continue to conduct these investigations, and we will continue to arrest those who would travel to Polk County to harm children."

Those arrested and charged were from various parts of Central Florida, from Orlando to Hardee County. None of those charged were from Highlands County, according to information provided by the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

Those charged also come from various backgrounds -- from an electrician to theme park employees to a law enforcement academy graduate and a youth football coach, states a Polk County news release.

The investigation was done in an undisclosed location in Polk County, beginning June 8, through Saturday, June 15.

The suspects face a total of 180 charges, which range from: Attempted Lewd Battery, Lewd and Lascivious Battery, Unlawful use of a Two-Way Communication Device, Seduce/Solicit/Entice to commit in Sexual Act, Traveling to Meet Minor, Drug Possession, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, Traveling to Meet/Use Computer to Solicit Guardian, Transmission of Harmful Material to Minor, to Procuring Minor for Prostitution, and Resisting Arrest without Violence.

The suspects will be prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office of the Tenth Judicial Circuit, the news release adds.

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