MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. - A firefighter, engineer, and landscaper are just a few of the more than 40 men deputies say they caught in an online, underage sex sting.
Manatee County detectives made the arrests in connection with Operation Green Shepherd, a sting where officers pose as underage children online and wait to see who takes the bait.
The suspects showed up to a decoy house with condoms, candy, firearms and even a dog. All of them arrived at the location with the alleged idea that they were there to have sex with a minor.
"We're not going to condone this type of activity on our children in this state," said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.
Undercover detectives started the sting last Monday. For a week straight, the officers combed online chartrooms.
They found men who expressed interest in having sex with the underage personas and set up a meeting. Half of those that showed up were from Manatee County. The others were mostly from neighboring counties, including Pinellas and Polk.
"There's a lot of kids out here all the time, everyday," said Eleana Girado, who lives just down the street from the Bradenton home of one of the men arrested, Rene Torres.
He wouldn't come to the door to answer our questions, but his shocked neighbors did, including boy scout leader, David Shoemaker.
"Their kids and my kids, they all play together out here," he said. "To hear something like that it's very scary. It's very, very disturbing. I'm just in shock, actually."
Among the 43 men arrested was Jeremy Wert, a firefighter-paramedic for St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.
Fire Chief Jim Large said Wert resigned over the weekend.
""Glad he was caught," he said. "We can't have an employee out there doing this kind of thing and then working for the department."
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