WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced over two dozen arrests in an undercover operation on Friday.
In a news release, the sheriff’s office said multiple agencies collaborated for two weeks on Operation Child Protector III, which focused on “sexual predators targeting children.”
“Our goal was to arrest really, really bad guys,” Sherriff Grady Judd said.
Detectives posed as children on social media platforms, online dating sites and apps. They also “conducted a review of sexual offender/predator compliance with Florida’s registration laws and specifically focused on convicted sex offenders and sex predators with prior child victims within Polk County,” the sheriff’s office wrote.
Judd said they made 30 arrests in total, but there were also seven suspects who were wanted on outstanding warrants.
- Alexis Diaz-Toledo, 27, Lake Wales
- Johnny Clark Jr., 49, of Lake Wales
- Shane Malpass, 29, Lakeland
- Todd Johnson, 54
- Terrell Timmerman, 66, Lakeland
- Kenneth Niedt, 59, Seffner
- Bradley Hines, 35, Pinellas Park
According to Judd, Hines and Niedt were wanted after they were caught trying to groom a person whom they thought was a 13-year-old girl, only for it to be an undercover detective.
The sheriff said the two men wrote very “ugly, vile” things in their communications.
Among those who were arrested were a high school umpire, carnival ride operator, and Colorado corrections officer, according to deputies.
Judd said the umpire, 25-year-old Leo Cintron of Lakeland, was arrested after he was caught trying to meet a 13-year-old boy. When Cintron showed up, he ended up encountering detectives and admitted to knowing that the person he was talking to was 13.
Two suspects reportedly traveled to meet the decoy child with the intention of sexually battering them, the sheriff’s office said. Six others allegedly engaged in sexually-charged conversations or sent sexual material to undercover detectives, believing they were children.
“He’s umpired high school games, college, D-1, division 1, division 2,” the sheriff said. “He wants to be a professional umpire.”
“He too was very graphic … this is a nasty nasty guy,” he added.
Another suspect, Samuel Zoellner, 26, of St. Petersburg, had already been convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old girl in Michigan when he was 18. Now he faces more jail time after trying to meet someone he thought was a 15-year-old girl and resisting arrest, deputies said.
“He’s the evidence that they will assault again,” Judd said.
Two other suspects were arrested after they sexually battered teenage girls they met online.
Judd said Jose Armando, 25, of Davenport met a 14-year-old girl through Instagram, picked her up from her house, and sexually battered the minor at his home.
The other suspect, 28-year-old Zackery Childress of Lakeland, allegedly met a 13-year-old girl through a dating app and arranged to have unprotected sex with her, according to deputies.
Investigators said he crawled into the child’s bedroom through her window and battered her, all while he was infected with two STDs.
“He says, ‘oh but it’s no big deal. I’m taking medicine,” Judd said. “What can I tell you, I certainly look forward to him spending a long time in prison.”