LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. -- The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office arrested 13 people in Operation Intercept IV, an initiative to protect Sarasota County children from online predators.
Suspects ranging in age from 18-53 responded to Internet-based ads, online apps or social media sites and engaged in sexually explicit written and verbal conversations. More than half of the suspects live in Sarasota County and the others in surrounding counties including DeSoto, Pinellas and Hillsborough.
Four of the men are from SWFL. One from Lehigh Acres lives right next to Harns Middle and Elementary. Two are from North Port and one from Arcadia. His name is Keith Howard. He's been charged with use of a Computer to Solicit a Child to Commit Sex Act, Travel to Solicit a Child to Commit Sex Acts, Lewd or Lascivious Battery - Attempted.
Some of the men sent explicit photos and several brought condoms with them. Ultimately they all traveled with the intent to have sex with a male or female child.
"While it's concerning to see this many suspects respond in just three days," said Sheriff Tom Knight. "It's even more concerning that these individuals live right here in our community. Unlike operations in the past where suspects have traveled from around the state to sexually exploit children, all of the men arrested in this operation live within or just outside Sarasota County. This should be a reminder for parents to remain cognizant of their children's online activity; know what they are doing and who they are talking to."