POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – At a Polk County Sheriff’s Office substation on a Monday night, detectives from “Operation Child Protector II” posed as children as young as 13 years old in online chat rooms.
“If children gather on any app or any site, then we can find predators there as well,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
The detectives were trying to catch child predators before they can prey on young victims.
“If we only arrested one, then it would be successful,” Sheriff Judd said.
While the detectives communicated with what Sheriff Judd called deviants, deputies were waiting at an undercover location in northeast Polk County.
The night News Channel 8 had exclusive access, they greeted 26-year-old Timothy King at the door and arrested him.
“So you might ask the sheriff, ‘sheriff how far did he ride a bike to have what he thought was sex with a 15-year-old child?’ 10 miles,” Sheriff Judd said at a news conference Friday, announcing a dozen arrests during the two-week undercover operation.
King is one of four suspects the sheriff said travelled to the undercover house with the intention of meeting a minor for sex. Nearly every arrested suspect is charged with the transmission of harmful material to a minor.
“The overwhelming majority of these people weren’t from Polk County,” Sheriff Judd said, “but what we do is we throw a wide net. This time it went as far as Alabama and Michigan.”
One of the men arrested on a warrant is 30-year-old Disney bus driver Zachary Hudson.
“He did not travel,” Sheriff Judd said, “but he sent nude and lewd pictures of himself. He thought it was to a 15-year-old girl.”
George Matthews from Alabama is one of the three suspects who is older than 60.
“He made statements to the 13-year-old that he was old enough to be her grandfather and then he engaged in some very nasty chat,” Sheriff Judd said.
With new platforms for online chatting constantly emerging, Sheriff Judd offered his best advice for how parents can protect their children.
“They don’t have to worry about search and seizure so they need to search and they need to seize if they see something inappropriate,” he said. “Stay all up in your child’s business because if you’re not in your child’s business, predators will be.”
While this undercover operation is over, the sheriff says his detectives are online 24/7 trying to catch child predators.