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Child Exploitation
07/02/2008

CyberCrime unit launches task force in Tampa to combat Internet child predators

TAMPA, Fla. – Citing the need for a statewide approach to fighting the escalation of predatory crimes against children, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) partnered with the Office of Attorney General Bill McCollum to open the fourth CyberCrime Unit office in Tampa. The new office follows the openings of the unit’s headquarters in Jacksonville and two branch offices in Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. The ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa joined the Attorney General, members of the Tampa Bay area’s local, state and federal law enforcement community as well as local and state government officials and community leaders at the opening.

“Our Tampa CyberCrime office continues our effort to make our state the most aggressive in the nation for tracking down and locking up Internet child predators,” said Attorney General McCollum. “We are proud of the partnerships that have been established here and are especially grateful to our federal partner, ICE which has been instrumental in our endeavors to create the Tampa Task Force.”

“The Florida Attorney General’s CyberCrime Unit brings additional resources into the Tampa Bay area that are much needed to combat child predators and other criminals who use the Internet to facilitate their crimes,” said Robert Weber, special agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa. “We look forward to working alongside our state partners to identify and arrest those who prey on our most vulnerable citizens.”

Last year, the Florida Legislature recognized the need for the CyberCrime Unit’s efforts to cover the entire state and provided the resources to expand statewide. The expansion provides essential resources to local, state and federal authorities to investigate, arrest and prosecute internet predators and child pornographers. The Attorney General’s CyberCrime office model includes a prosecutor, law enforcement, and victim advocates working side by side to investigate and prosecute internet predators and educate the community about cyber safety. The Tampa office will focus on a task force approach and will feature a strong team of state, local, and federal partners joining together to battle the exploitation of children online.

Based on the number of complaints that pour into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s CyberTipline, internet crimes against children are not slowing down. The CyberCrime Unit has made a total of 69 arrests, one of which was a Hillsborough County man arrested two weeks ago on charges of soliciting someone he thought was a 13-year old boy. The suspect also admitted he had molested children in another state and currently faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of these charges. Of the 69 defendants, more than 30 have already been sentenced to prison terms of various lengths, community control or probation. The remaining defendants have criminal charges pending.

Since Jan 2007, the Attorney General has expanded the CyberCrime Unit statewide from a staff of six to the current 30 positions, with another CyberCrime office to be opened in Northwest Florida in late July. Additional agencies involved in the Tampa Task Force will include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the U.S. Postal Inspectors; the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida; the Polk County Sheriff's Office; the Manatee County Sheriff's Office; the Tampa Police Department; the St. Petersburg Police Department; the Clearwater Police Department; the Bradenton Police Department; the New Port Richey Police Department; the Plant City Police Department; the Pinellas Park Police Department and the Hillsborough County School Board Police.