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Child Exploitation

Ft. Myers mental health counselor found guilty of attempting to solicit children for sex

TAMPA, Fla. - A joint investigation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office resulted in a mental health counselor being found guilty of using a computer to attempt to solicit children for sex.

Charles Jackson Friedlander, 78, a licensed mental health counselor from Ft. Myers, was found guilty March 27, 2009, and faces a mandatory 10 years in federal prison and up to life.

According to testimony presented at trial, Friedlander used a computer to chat on line with the father of two boys, ages 10 and 11. Friedlander wanted to arrange a meeting in which he was planning to physically and sexually abuse the two children.

What Friedlander didn't know, was that he was chatting with an undercover detective from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

On July 21, 2008, Friedlander drove to the prearranged meeting location in St. Petersburg from his home in the Ft. Myers area and was arrested. In his vehicle, Friedlander had leather straps and a riding crop.

During his computer chats, he had discussed using these items to beat the children.

"It is always displeasing to see someone attempting to prey on anyone in society, however it is especially despicable when an individual attempts to prey on the youngest, most innocent members of society, and it is even worse when that individual is in a position of public trust," said Sue McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Tampa Office of Investigations. "Fortunately, the dedicated work of a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office detective and the excellent teamwork between the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and ICE resulted in preventing this individual from acting out his sadistic desires on an actual child."

Friedlander was indicted on July 30, 2008. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 29, 2009, at 3.p.m.

This investigation was part of Operation Predator, a nationwide ICE 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.

ICE encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. 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.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Amanda C. Kaiser.