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July 10, 2020Jacksonville, FL, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking, Child Exploitation

Florida man indicted for sex trafficking children, online enticement

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – A Florida man was charged counts of sex trafficking children and four counts of using a cellular phone to entice children to engage in unlawful sex acts in a grand jury indictment Thursday. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the indictment, beginning by at least some date in 2016, Edward Alan Hardin, 33, of Pomona Park, began soliciting a child victim to engage in commercial sex acts, knowing that the victim was younger than 18 years old. In 2020, Hardin allegedly used a cellular telephone to entice the victim to engage in unlawful sexual activity, including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and custodial sexual battery, in violation of Florida statutes, and attempted production of child pornography in violation of federal law.

The indictment further alleges that, at least from July 21, 2018, and through a date in March 2020, Hardin used a cellular telephone to entice a second child victim to engage in unlawful sexual activity, including unlawful sexual activity with a minor, in violation of Florida statutes; statutory rape, in violation of Georgia Code; and production of child pornography, in violation of federal law.

It is further alleged that on a date in late 2017, or early 2018, Hardin engaged in sex trafficking of a third child, and caused that victim to engage in a commercial sex act.

Hardin faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years, and up to life, in federal prison for each count, followed by a term of 5 years, and up to a lifetime of supervised release.  The indictment also notifies Hardin that the United States intends to forfeit assets used in the offense.

An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has violated one or more of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.

The case will be prosecuted by the office of United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez, Middle District Florida, Assistant United States Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor.

This investigation was conducted under HSI’s Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 25,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child exploitation material, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2019, more than 3,500 child predators were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative and more than 1,000 victims identified or rescued.

HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.

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-THE-LOST.

HSI is a founding member 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.