Sept. 25, 2008 -- They are typical young teenage girls who enjoy talking to their friends on the computer. That's what they want sexual predators to believe, anyway.
The Florida "teenagers" who boast names like Emily and Annie and profess to love horseback riding are actually undercover detectives with the Polk County Sheriff's Department who are trying to catch sexual predators.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has made a name for himself as a crusader against child molesters.
"These people are all very highly trained detectives," he said of the undercover workers gathered in a room in Lakeland, Fla. "They know how to communicate as if they are 13, 14 years of age and they are talking to people who are adults."
And by adults, he doesn't mean 18-year-olds. He means much older men.
"It's like fishing," Judd said. "Some days you go out there and catch a boat load, sometimes you go out there and catch one or two. So we would be surprised if we came up without any fish 'cause we catch them every day."
"I feel exceptionally good and when I wake up on a day like this and think you know there are predators in the community that aren't even aware that tonight they are going to sleep in my county jail and they will go to prison for the next five years," he continued, "and I'm really excited about that."
Setting Up the Sting
The sheriff rents a house a couple of times a year and sets up shop with computers, detectives and hidden cameras.
It's important, he said, to catch every move the suspect makes on camera.
"They are likely to make all kinds of incriminating statements from the time they are texting us or e-mailing with us all the way until the time we take formal statements," he said.
When the suspects come to the front door they expect to be greeted by a teenage boy or girl, "depending on their fantasy."
"Ironically, can you imagine someone who would take the risk of walking up to a strange house just because a 13- or 14-year-old said mom or dad is not here?" he asked. "But they do it every time. And once we open the door they don't resist. Some are startled when they see big burly guys with the sheriff on their vest."
It's in that room in Lakeland, Fla., that a 48-year-old bus driver from North Carolina makes contact with the three detectives. Each time he thinks he's chatting online with a cute 14-year-old girl.
And he's not mistaken about her age. It's the first thing the detectives, posing as the teen, tell him.
"You are 14?" he writes.
"Yes, how old r u?" the "teen" writes back.
"I'm 48," he responds.
And it doesn't take long before the man turns the conversation to sex.
"Would you mind me putting my hands all over you?" he asks.
"No, not at all," the "teen" writes. "Then what?"
"Fingers?" he asks.
"Huh?" the teen responds.
"Run my fingers all over your body," the man writes back.
Catching the Predator?
The online chats soon turn into phone conversations.
The thirty-something officer, who's got the sound of a teenager down pat, asks the man if he's going to come see her.
He later asks "you sure you don't work for ABC and the catch the old guy going to see the young girl show?"
(He's referring to NBC's "To Catch a Predator.")
The detective laughs off his concern and they make plans to meet. He questions her about nosy neighbors and reiterates his fear of being trapped by a television show.
Even though he's clearly worried about getting caught, the temptation is too great. He asks for a meeting, but at a nearby convenience store instead of the house.
But what's waiting for him is a team of cops, not the sweet and sexy 14-year-old of his dreams.
The sting has nabbed 48-year-old Michael "Rick" Wullschleger, a husband and a father.
The bus driver from Monroe, N.C. has brought his family to Florida on vacation, but while his wife and daughter spent time at Disney World, Wullschleger was trolling the Internet for young girls.
Now he's driven an hour to meet one -- and been arrested for his trouble.
Detectives learn that not only is Wullschleger a school bus driver, but he is a swim coach back in North Carolina for children ages 4 to 17.
Judd said that police are questioning all of Wullschleger's jobs and travels looking for how much access he's had to children.
A Family Tragedy
This may not be the first time he's tried something like this.
"He didn't wake up at 40 something years of age and say I think I'm going to take my kids to Disney today and go have sex with a 14-year-old girl," Judd said. "This is not his first time. He's a school bus driver, that's a clue, he's a swim coach, that's a clue. Classic pedophiles seek the opportunity to be around children and that's what he did with his jobs."
"So his jobs as an adult put him around children. Driving a school bus for elementary, middle and high school coaching children from 4-18 years of age to be better swimmers, that is classic trends of someone who is a pedophile," Judd continued, "and today his wife is at Disney with his [young] daughter and a [young] friend and he drives 45 miles away to meet with a 14-year-old girl. In our business we call that a clue."
Wullschleger faces four felony charges stemming from his arrest: one count of traveling to meet a minor for purposes of sexual contact, one count of use of a computer to seduce a child and two counts of receiving computer statements for the purpose of sexual contact with a child.
He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney, a public defender, would not comment further on his case.
"This is a grand slam for us. We have arrested someone who poses a significant danger to kids. He is in a position where he can have a lot of interaction with kids so we are exceptionally excited that he's under arrest. He is now ID'ed as a sexual offender with us and certainly with the court proceedings are over with we anticipate he will be designated a sexual predator and he'll go to prison, he'll have probation and forever more we will have him in a database," Judd said. "We know that he probably, statistically, may have been engaged with children before. We will investigate that and see if it can be proved. But the reality of it is, when we take someone off who has frequent access to children we have made a great deal of kids safer."
The Lakeland, Fla., girl wasn't real, he said, "but it is just as important to us to protect the kids in N.C. and that's what we've done today."
And that there wasn't a 14-year-old girl to meet him is the good news.
"The bad news is he has a wife who as we speak is at Disney world having a wonderful time with her ... child and a friend," he said. "Her world is about to fall apart and it's all because of him."
But luring men into a house with undercover detectives acting at the real thing --is that entrapment?
The sheriff said no.
Kelly Collier, a defense attorney who's represented some of these cases, said they get the wrong kind of people.
"These are not the kind of people who are going to the mall to pick up a teenager or go to the middle school to pick up someone," she said. "Are they doing something wrong that they shouldn't be doing? I definitely believe that but they are not going to go out and try and find someone. It's just that it's so easy through the Internet and because they get so much encouragement from law enforcement in these cases."
But Collier said that type of "encouragement" is probably not entrapment.
"In my mind a predator is somebody who is going to go out and they are going to go to the mall and they are going to go to the middle school and they are going to drive down the street and they are going to try and pick up that 14-year-old," she said. "Not some poor fool sitting in his room alone behind a computer you know fantasizing about sex with a young girl. They just get sucked into this and continue into their fantasy and it leads them into the point where their lives are ruined."
An earlier similar sting netted Michael Tyburski, one of the few men who wanted to talk to reporters and one of the few that admitted he had a problem and needed to be stopped.
"The Internet really is like a drug. I mean as bad as drugs are throughout this country … but Internet chat is just as bad," he said. "It is so easily to get addicted to and once you start it's very hard to stop unless you have incredible will power which I don't, obviously. If you start getting to this point then find somebody to talk to even a priest or therapist that maybe can help you before you end up where I am. "
Tybulski has pleaded not guilty. He remains free on bail.
Previous operations in Polk County have resulted in six arrests. All but one was sentenced to jail.
But the word must be getting out -- only one person was arrested on that day in Lakeland and on the previous day.
A Suspected Sexual Predator Speaks
But just as the operation is winding down, another suspect wanted to make a date. He'd been chatting with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl, even going so far as to send a nude video of himself. And he wanted to meet her.
"The predators know that they can create charisma and a connection easier on the phone," Judd said. "You know many people think that predators are guys that hide behind rain coats in public parks, that's not that's not the predator. The predator we know has a lot of charisma and personality."
On the way to the house the man called numerous times both for directions and reassurance for himself and for "Erica." He told her he'd bring condoms.
"You going to get all sexy and dressed up for me?" he asked her. "Give me about 10 minutes and I'm gonna stop at a gas station too and get some condoms."
But once at the house, he got cold feet.
He called again and asked "Erica" told come outside.
"I'm all dressed up I don't' want to go out looking like this," the detective told him.
But he protested, "It's OK, come out to the front door."
"Erica" goes on to tell him that she's got a surprise and urges him again to come inside.
But it wasn't the surprise he was expecting.
This time the alleged predator is a 25-year-old named Gustavo Diaz, screen name SPIKTACULARDJ.
In the interrogation video, Diaz admitted sending a picture to what he thought was a young girl and that he had been wearing boxers that he later took off.
When asked by ABC News why he was trying to have sex with a 13-year-old girl, Diaz said he knew it was wrong.
"It was a dumb mistake, something stupid that I didn't think it out," he said. "I didn't think it out."
When questioned further on whether he was caught fairly or trapped into it, Diaz replied, "No they got me for what they got me and I was being stupid online."
But Diaz, who has pleaded not guilty, said he was just role playing online "and I don't know how it got to this."
"It's just one of those spur of the moment things but it was more role play," he said. "Yeah role play kind of lead to, went the wrong way."
When pressed, Diaz offered some advice for others on the Internet.
"Be careful who you talk to online because not everyone is who they seem," he said, "and the best place to try and find somebody is face to face is at a bar -- it's not the right way to pick up somebody, especially somebody this young."
Keeping Children Safe
Parry Aftab, an Internet security and privacy lawyer, said the most important thing parents and adults can to is teach children good judgment and that "the most important filter is the one between their ears."
"Teach them the people who are too good to be true are too good to be true and if an adult wants to meet them it's not for love and affection and to marry them some day -- they've got one thing in mind and one thing only and not all kids come home in one piece … out of a body bag," Aftab said.
Judd and his detectives arrested three alleged online predators during the Lakeland sting. Wullschleger, Diaz, and another man all await trial.
With an arrest record of 28 in the previous operation, it seems Polk County is making a name for itself.
"We had folks on line today say 'Lakeland? We are not coming to Polk,'" Judd said. "But I can tell you this, even though at this time we have had two come to the house within the first 24 hours we also have many charges on those who have not come to the house because to download explicit material, to hit on these children on line is felonies as well. We'll go out and catch them in the next few weeks and put them in jail as well."
"So it's not just the ones who are coming here, it's the one's who chatted must sit there and watch your program and think 'Are they coming after me?'" Judd said. "And my answer to them is 'You bet.'"