ORLANDO, Fla. — A summer-long law enforcement operation targeting child predators concluded Friday with the arrest of 26 individuals in central Florida and elsewhere, including two registered sex offenders, a police officer and a school employee.
"Operation Safe Summer" was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office in Florida. It began in May to culminate with school summer vacation months.
The operation targeted suspects who were actively soliciting children for sex and possessing and distributing images and videos of child pornography.
Two of the men arrested were registered sex offenders.
Other individuals arrested during the operation include: Steven Waring, 32, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., who worked at the computer department of a junior and senior high school, and was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography, and David Williams, 37, of West Point, Ky., a Kentucky police officer charged with lewd exhibition and solicitation.
"Removing these predators from access to children is one of the most important responsibilities we have," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Tampa, at a news conference to announce the arrests. McCormick also put child predators on notice: "You can not hide, we will find you, we will arrest you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law," she said.
This cooperative investigation also included assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Game Over Task Force, West Melbourne Police Department, and the Kentucky State Police.
Arrests were made in Brevard, Broward, Lake, Lee, Orange and Volusia counties in Florida, as well as in New York, Utah and Kentucky.
Individuals were arrested on charges ranging from possession and distribution of child pornography, solicitation and traveling for the purpose of having sexual relations with a minor, and lewd and lascivious exhibition.
The defendants were arrested and turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. All of the cases will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Orlando, with the exception of three cases will be prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office.
Brevard County Sheriff Jack Parker stated, "Through the use of the Internet, child sex offenders have access to and can often seek victims in other communities. This operation serves as a great example of how law enforcement officers from different agencies can successfully impact crime and rid our communities of those that would harm our children by working together."
These cases were investigated by ICE HSI and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office Task Force. The task force has been in operation since 2006, proactively investigating cases involving the sexual exploitation of children. In 2009, the task force agents were recognized as "Agents of the Year" for these investigations by the United States Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida.
The federal cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Carlos A. Perez-Irizarry, Tanya Wilson, LaKesia Mosley, Dan Eckhart and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Myrna Mesa.
The investigation was 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.