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To Catch a Predator: Sex Sting Operations

Florida law enforcement officers are conducting sex sting operations around the state that are intended to target those seeking underage individuals online to engage in sexual activities. Authorities usually claim that those arrested in the stings responded to ads suggesting a minor was available for sex.

However, recent reports have shown that innocent individuals looking for other consenting adults on legal dating sites have been arrested during these stings. Both trial judges and critics of the stings have often rebuked the investigations due to various issues of entrapment. These controversies have arisen over the methods used by law enforcement, including such tactics as “bait and switch,” extensive use of media exposure (and even billboards featuring the names and faces of arrested “johns”) following arrests, and using Air Force investigators in violation of federal law (more on this shortly). Other overturned cases have featured undercover officers continually and actively steering a conversation with a target to the topic of underage sex (clearly a concerted effort to lure the target into committing the crime), or failing to follow the guidelines of the nationwide Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force.

The ICAC guidelines, which assist and direct investigations of Internet crimes involving real children, include a list of priorities which agencies are supposed to target. The following is a list of situations provided by the ICAC; online undercover stings using fake profiles of minors are not included:

  1. A child is at immediate risk of victimization.
  2. A child is vulnerable to victimization by a known offender.
  3. A known suspect is aggressively soliciting children.
  4. Manufacturers, distributors or possessors of images that appear to be home photography show domiciled children.
  5. There exist aggressive, high-volume child pornography manufacturers or distributors who either are commercial distributors, repeat offenders, or specialize in sadistic images;
  6. Manufacturers, distributors, or solicitors involved in high-volume trafficking or belonging to an organized child pornography ring that operates as a criminal conspiracy are present.
  7. There exist distributors, solicitors and possessors of images of child pornography.
  8. Any other form of child victimization is suspected.

In order to keep receiving Task Force grants that help fund salaries for investigators in local or regional ICAC task forces, local law enforcement agencies must keep up their arrest numbers. While some counties have moved away from directing their ICAC task forces to undertake these types of stings, others have not.

Federal law clearly prohibits the use of military resources to enforce state criminal law. The Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385) dates back to 1878 and was enacted precisely to prevent this practice. However, Florida state law enforcement officials have regularly used members of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in undercover sex stings. While the Air Force investigators initially planned to target service members seeking illegal contact with minors, they have often targeted and helped arrest civilians. Civilian prosecutions assisted and planned by OSI investigators risk being dismissed due to violations of the Posse Comitatus Act. Which is as it should be: military investigators should be dedicated to the investigation of military crimes, while Florida police and appropriate federal law enforcement agencies should focus on investigating crimes involving civilians.

Florida police agencies are also aggressively using sting operations to catch adults seeking other adults for prostitution, especially at the street level. The Ft. Lauderdale Police Department, for one example, has recently intensified its operations in the Sistrunk Boulevard area, in response to numerous neighborhood complaints. http://www.wsvn.com/story/26550817/prostitution-problems-ft-lauderdale-police-stage-undercover-sting Other such operations involve massage parlors which offer legal services for set prices, but in which the masseuses offer various sex acts for additional fees.

Don’t Hesitate to Call for Assistance!!

While many sex sting cases may be and do get dismissed (and convictions may be overturned due to entrapment), the damage is already done to those arrested, due to the media coverage sought by law enforcement. An accused john may find a TV news camera aimed at his face as he is being put in the back seat of a patrol car. One can easily imagine the potential negative consequences to his employment, or his reputation among his neighbors and peers. (It might be better to not imagine the consequences to our poor john’s marriage and family life.)

Please contact attorney Tony Moss at The Tony Moss Firm, L.L.C., if you or a loved one has been arrested following a Florida prostitution sting, or is being investigated by state or federal law enforcement for arranging sexual activity with a minor. He has locations in Miami and Fort Lauderdale and is prepared to put his experience and knowledge to work for you.

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