Undercover Sex Sting Operation in Manatee County Results in 25 Arrests

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

Between February 10 and February 17, undercover officers from the Manatee County Sherriff's Department posed as minors online in order to catch child predators.  The officers arranged meetings with 25 men in their homes, where the men believed that they were going to be having sexual encounters with minors.  Among the charges faced by the 25 defendants are travel to solicit a child to commit a sexual act, use of a computer to solicit a child to commit a sexual act and lewd and lascivious conduct.  This is the third such sting that was done by Manatee County officials.  This was a multi-department effort among police departments from many counties.  In Sarasota, a similar operation resulted in 62 arrests.

The crimes which these defendants are being charged are all felonies which can result in large amounts of jail time.  The charge of travelling to solicit a child to solicit a sexual act is a second degree felony for which the punishment could be up to 15 years in prison for first time offenders.  This charge directly has to do with travelling to meet a child (or someone who the defendant believes is a child) that was met online for the purpose of sex.  The charges of using a computer to solicit a child to commit a sexual act are a third degree felony which could result in an additional 5 years in jail.  Finally, the charge of lewd and lascivious conduct, which also covers soliciting a minor for sex, is either a second or third degree felony depending on the age of the child and can result in up to 5 or up to 15 years in prison.

All of these charges could also result in the defendants having to register as either a sexual offender or sexual predator if they are found guilty and after they are released from prison.  Since all of these crimes are second and third degree felonies, if these are first offenses, the defendant would have to register as a sexual offender for any second degree felony charges.  If any of these defendants are facing at least a second charge for a second degree felony sex offense, they will be facing a designation as a sexual predator, usually reserved for the most dangerous offenders.

What the designations of sexual predator/offender means is that there are requirements that someone who is designated as a sexual predator or sexual offender must meet.  These offenders must have official identification with their current address on it at all times and has 48 hours after moving to update their identification.  This information is used to keep up a database of sexual offenders and sexual predators which can be accessed by the public.

However, there could also be additional restrictions put on sexual predators and sexual offenders by the judge in their individual case.  These restrictions could include living at least 1000 feet from a school or having very limited contact with minors.  However, once this person is finished with their probation, these additional restrictions would be lifted.