This summer, the Lake County Sheriff's Office conducted a six-day sting operation they called Operation Summer Nights, which resulted in the arrest of 32 men whom police allege intended to have sex with a child. Officers timed the sting to correspond with the beginning of summer vacation from school for many children.
The arrestees came to a vacation home police rented in south Lake County, FL after corresponding online with police for a week, believing them to be children aged nine to 14 years or the parents of such children. The suspects' ages ranged from 19 to 63 and none of them were registered sex offenders. Many of them came from the greater Tampa and Orlando areas but some traveled from as far as Georgia and Texas.
The Lake County Sheriff's Office's cyber crimes team organized the operation. The team has been in existence for a few years and this is its largest sting to date. Law enforcement officials from several surrounding counties collaborated with the cyber crimes team on Operation Summer Nights.
Police used federal grant money to pay for the costs of the operation, including renting the lake home, the wages of outside officers assisting with the operation and the lodging of the police officers working on the operation. Sheriff's Office spokesman John Herrill said that they hope to recoup costs through restitution payments if the suspects are convicted.
The men face felony charges of traveling to meet a minor for sex, obscene communication with a computer and lewd and lascivious behavior. They face a maximum of 25 years in prison if they are convicted of the charges. Additionally, the suspects will have to register as sex offenders if they are convicted. Police also seized two of the suspects' cars when they made arrest, and the cars are in the forfeiture process so the suspects risk losing their property as well if they are convicted.
During the press conference Herill intimated that the Sheriff's Office is focusing on sex crimes involving children and that the police would be engaging in similar sting operations in the future.
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