TAMPA, Fla. - Brendan O'Neill, 35, of Tampa, pleaded guilty Tuesday to sex trafficking of a child and attempted enticement of a child for sex. He faces a maximum penalty of life in federal prison for each charge.
The cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
According to court documents, O'Neill used the Internet to recruit a minor to work for him, as a prostitute. He contacted the minor online using the social networking website "Tagged.com," characterized his business as an escort service, and brought her to Tampa to begin working for him.
The minor was located during an undercover law enforcement operation designated to recover juvenile victims of domestic sex trafficking.
In a separate investigation, O'Neill used the social networking website "MySpace.com" to communicate with an undercover detective, who was posing as a 15-year-old girl online. O'Neill made plans to meet with the "girl" for the purposes of engaging in sexual activity and traveled to the agreed upon meeting place, where he was arrested.
The ICE investigation is part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers, and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable. ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.
The Innocence Lost national initiative of the FBI addresses domestic child prostitution through 39 task forces and working groups around the nation. To date, the 39 Innocence Lost Task Forces and Working Groups have recovered 1,250 children.
Both cases were brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by United States Attorneys' Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to better locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, and to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurel Moore Lee for the Middle District of Florida.