The Volusia County Sheriff's Department arrested 23 suspects -- two in Ormond Beach -- during a five-day online cyber-sting operation, targeting individuals looking to have sex with minors.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, with the aid of 16 other agencies, carried out an online cyber-sting operation, leading to the arrests of 23 sexual predators, including two men from Ormond Beach.
During "Operation Volusia Broad Band," the VCSO arrested individuals who visited an Ormond Beach home, authorities say, with the intent to have sex with a minor.
“These individuals thought they were talking to a 14-year-old, an even younger child or parents who were putting their children up for some kind of sexual pleasure,” Sheriff Ben Johnson said, at a Tuesday, Oct. 16 press conference. “This is something we take very seriously.”
Duane P. Owen, 54, and Jayson P. Parker, 27, both from Ormond Beach, were among the 12 men arrested from Volusia County.
Owen was contacted by an undercover police officer posing as a 14-year-old boy, responding to a Craigslist ad.
Parker had been exchanging emails with an undercover officer who he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
Leading up to the five-day operation, undercover “chatters” posed as children in chat rooms, social networks and other websites, waiting to be approached by predators.
When conversations moved towards meeting the child for sex, undercover officers made arrangements for the suspects to meet them at the decoy house, which was wired with surveillance cameras.
On their arrival, suspects were arrested and most were charged with “use of a computer to seduce or solicit a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct, traveling to meet a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct and unlawful use of a two-way communications device,” the VCSO said.
The suspects who thought they had been speaking with a child’s mother, father or relative were charged with use of a computer to solicit a parent or guardian to consent to unlawful sexual conduct with a child.
State Attorney R.J. Larizza said the suspects had both second- and third-degree felonies, with the second-degree felonies carrying a maximum of 15 years in the Florida State Prison System, and the third-degree felonies carrying a maximum of five years in the state prison system.
Larizza added there may be opportunities for “sentencing enhancements,” for those suspects who are repeat offenders or habitual felony offenders.
One of the suspects, Paul D. Way, 36, an Army Reservist from Melbourne, brought a hand-written signed contract with blanks for the mother and daughter to sign, giving him permission to perform sex acts on the girl. Way also brought a teddy bear.
Another suspect, John F. Williams, 66, a semi-retired doctor from Port Orange, brought a box of condoms (which the VCSO said most suspects also bought), two bottles of wine, various sex devices and Viagra pills, to meet who he thought was a 14-year-old girl.
In addition to the suspects from Volusia County, the VCSO also arrested individuals from Palm Coast, St. Augustine, Apopka and as far away as Kingsville, Ga., which added another element to the operation.
“It’s important when you’re doing what we call these ‘traveler’ cases, that you coordinate the effort with (Internet Crimes Against Children), with the Sheriff’s office, the other agencies involved and with the State’s Attorney’s office, ” Larizza said. “Because, ultimately, we prosecute. We want to make sure that those cases are prosecutable, and the best way to do that is cooperation.”
More than half the suspects arrested were Volusia County residents. Sheriff Johnson added that, from his experience, it’s unusual to have so many from one “cluster.”
“We’ve done these things all over the state, and sometimes they come from the same area (as the decoy house),” Johnson said. “Sometimes from other areas. Normally, we get more from away.”
The VCSO carried out a similar sting operation in September, which resulted in 15 arrests.