PANAMA CITY, Fla. – An Alabama man was sentenced Wednesday to 121 months in federal prison for using the Internet in an attempt to persuade, induce and entice a minor to engage in sexual activity. This case was investigated by the North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which includes 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 during a three day trial in April proved that on June 14, 2012, law enforcement officers posed as a 14-year-old boy named Skylar and responded to an advertisement titled "Last call!!!! – m4m – 1840 (PCB/Laguna Beach)." This advertisement was posted under the casual encounters section of Craigslist.org.
For the next 48 hours, Thomas Monroe Lee, 40, of Gadsden, 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 Alabama residence to engage in sexual activity. However, once Lee arrived at the location, officers from various law enforcement agencies arrested him for attempted online enticement of a child.
The court also ordered Lee to pay a $1,000 fine and serve seven years of supervised release following his prison term.
"The Internet is a dangerous place, and we are determined to protect and provide justice to victims of Internet crime," said U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh. "Adult predators who seek to harm our children will be pursued and prosecuted by our office in cooperation with our law enforcement partners."
"This man drove across state lines for the sole purpose of engaging in sexual relations with a child he believed to be 14 years old," said Shane Folden, deputy special agent in charge of HSI Tampa, which oversees the agency’s Panama City office that participated in the investigation. "Our joint law enforcement efforts have successfully put this man behind bars for the next 10 years where he can no longer prey on innocent children."
The 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.