A three day long law enforcement operation wrapped up Friday in Monroe County targeting internet exploitation of children. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, a participant in the South Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force for the past ten years, worked with other task force members to arrest three people during the course of the operation.
The operation was led by Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Detective Dan Mehler. There were two areas of focus. One targeted individuals who “chatted” on line with undercover operatives posing as children. The other targeted those who transmit and possess child pornography.
In two instances, men talked on the internet with an undercover operative posing as a young, teenage girl. The men – 46 year old Guillermo Lopez of Miami and 22 year old Pablo Cabrera of Hialeah – had obscene on-line conversations with the “girl” and then agreed to meet with her at a location in Key Largo. They were arrested when they showed up on charges of traveling for sex with a minor.
Three search warrants were served during the operation, one on the Big Pine Key residence of 36 year old Christopher Mitchum, who was subsequently arrested for ten counts of possession of child pornography by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The other two search warrants, served in the city of Key West, are still part of ongoing investigations. Arrests are also expected in those two cases.
Other agencies assisting in the operation included the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office, Broward County Sheriff’s Office, FDLE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Secret Service, Key West Police, Boynton Beach Police and South Florida High Intensity Drug Enforcement Administration.
Sheriff Bob Peryam and detectives from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office travelled to Tallahassee late last year to take part in a similar operation. The Sheriff’s Office – and all the agencies involved in the task force operations – are dedicated to protecting children from such attempts at exploitation.
“I feel that it is our responsibility, as an agency, to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children,” Sheriff Peryam said. “Operations like this are an effective way to target adults who would directly endanger our children, and whose intention is to exploit them for their own illegal purposes.”
The Commander of the South Florida ICAC Task Force, Lt Richard Pisanti met with Undersheriff Colonel Rick Ramsay at the start of the operation.
“Our goal is building good relationships with other participating agencies. This is a great opportunity to work with Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and local prosecutors to further the goals of ICAC, “ said Lt. Pisanti.
Colonel Rick Ramsay, who supports the participation with the ICAC Task Force, addressed the need for a proactive approach to protecting our children.
“Cyber crime can be difficult to detect. If we aren’t paying close attention to what our children are doing, and who they are talking to on-line, they can easily fall prey and become victims to these predators,” said Colonel Ramsay. “ Task Force operations are one of the most effective means to approach and combat cyber crimes against children.”
“I was so impressed with the cooperation and teamwork all of our agencies showed, working together during this operation,” said State Attorney Dennis Ward. “We will subsequently work hard to prosecute those individuals arrested,” he said.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office worked with local businesses to provide food for the officers throughout the operation. Publix supermarket provided snacks, drinks and breakfast all three days. Lupe and Michelle Ledesma of Lazy Days Restaurant in Islamorada provided hot lunches while the officers were working.
Background on the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force program
In 1998 the United States Department of Justice began an Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force to address the growing problem of Internet-related exploitation of children. The ICAC Task Force laid the foundation for what would become a nationwide partnership of law enforcement agencies with the mission of protecting children online. Currently there are 61 ICAC Task Forces located across the United States representing over 2,000 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. Since its inception, the ICAC Task Force program has investigated over 280,000 complaints of alleged child sexual exploitation and arrested almost 30,000 individuals. Monroe County has actively participated in the task force for more than ten years.
One of the primary missions of each ICAC task force involves reaching out to other agencies in other areas of the country to help them establish an internet presence and to build capacity and expertise. In doing so, an even larger network of law enforcement agencies is created capable of dealing with online threats and exploitation.
For more information regarding ICAC please visit www.icactaskforce.org.