The guilty verdict resulted from an investigation by the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which consists of representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bay County Sheriff's Office, the Walton County Sheriff's Office and the Gainesville Police Department.
Evidence presented at trial proved that, on June 14, law enforcement officers posed as a 14-year-old boy named Skylar and responded to an advertisement that appeared in the Casual Encounters section of the Panama City Beach/Laguna Beach Craigslist page. Over the next 48 hours, Thomas Monroe Lee, 40, of Gadsden, Ala., engaged in email chats and text messages with Skylar that were sexual in nature.
Lee subsequently drove to a location where he had arranged to meet Skylar. Lee planned to transport Skylar back to his residence to engage in sexual activity. Once Lee arrived at the location, special agents and officers from various law enforcement agencies arrested him for attempted online enticement of a child.
As a result of the guilty verdict, Lee faces a sentence between 10 years and life in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and at least five years of supervised release.
This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423 or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-843-5678.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.