Fifteen Florida men arrested this weekend in an undercover sex sting managed to disgust even the most veteran police officials by bringing everything from candy to vodka for the young children they were planning to seduce.
"One of the most shocking things to me is when a man shows up with candy bars and Skittles in one hand and condoms in the other," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who oversees two to three such sex crime stings a year. "That's about the most despicable thing I can imagine."
Nabbed at an undercover, surburban home rigged with cameras, the men now face a variety of sex-related charges. They drove from all over central Florida, Judd said, responding to ads placed on Craigslist or Internet chatrooms looking for men to teach children as young as 8 how to have sex.
The responses were vile.
"They did things like, they would communicate either over the telephone or the Internet and say things like, 'Please wear pink lingerie,'" Judd said. "One of them said, 'I want a 13-year-old girl to do gymnastics nude.'"
"One sent obscene photographs of himself which is not uncommon," he said. "Another brought vodka and Red Bulls for them all to drink."
The sting also netted a big surprise for one of the Polk County sergeants, whose team brought him face to face with the sergeant's son's Little Leage coach, who had come to the house looking for underage sex.
Another man charged in the sting turned out to be an assistant karate coach at a Plant City, Fla., teen center.
"So you never know," Judd said.
This weekend's operation was the second so far this year. Judd, who has served in the elected position of sheriff for five years, has been with the department for 38. He said the stings can be costly and labor intensive, but are worth it.
He estimated this weekend's sting cost between $15,000 and $20,000, including equipment, salaries and overtime, which is about average for operations of that size.
"But you know what, you can't put a price on a child's life," Judd said. "So if it cost $100,000 that would be all right."
"What we've done is kept 15 perverted, demented individuals from attacking children this weekend," he said.
Polk County Boasts Impressive Record of Sex Crime Stings
In April, a sting on child pornography led to the arrest of 50 people. Most of them, Judd said, like in the other stings typically end up pleading guilty. The average sentence in the child porn arrests was five years in prison and 10 years probation as a sex offender
"The case is so overwhelming against them, to sit before a jury of mothers and fathers while we present adult males sodomizing infants from birth to 8 years of age," Judd said.
Last year, Polk County arrested 45 people in a child pornography sting and another 34 in an online prostitution sting a few months later, according to local reports.
Though Judd often worked on stings during his time in investigations, the online sexual predator community has required authorities to step up their game.
This weekend's operation may also have uncovered some previously unknown, yet longstanding predators.
"We had one that bragged of having sex with an 8-year-old when he was 16 and a 12-year-old when he was 21," Judd said, adding that the man's claims will be investigated.
This weekend's arrests, Judd said, should also serve as a warning to anyone whose children use the Internet, especially social networking sites.
"If we weren't arresting these guys this weekend," he said, "they certainly would have traveled to meet your child or grandchild given the opportunity."