TAMPA, FL. – A jury found a central Florida man guilty Wednesday of using a facility of interstate commerce to entice a child to engage in sexual activity. The guilty verdict follows an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations and the Lake County Sheriff's Office.
According to testimony presented at trial, an undercover investigation in June revealed that John Joseph Steele, 64, of Wesley Chapel, Fla., used his computer and cell phone to arrange sex with a 13-year-old girl. Specifically, on June 18, he used his computer and cell phone to meet the 13-year-old girl for sex after communicating with a person he believed was the child's guardian. The individual, however, was an undercover officer engaged in an operation to identify and apprehend child sexual predators. After a brief conversation, Steele drove from Wesley Chapel to a location nearly 80 miles away, to meet and have sex with the child. He was subsequently arrested.
Steele faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in federal prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 4.
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-DHS-2-ICE 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 and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.