BRADENTON, Fla. - Manatee County sheriff's detectives have rounded up more than two dozen suspects in their latest web-based sting.
But this is not just a Manatee County story. The suspects came to Bradenton from Sarasota, Hillsborough, Polk, Pasco and Pinellas counties seeking to have sex with juveniles, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Operation Green Shepherd III was the third such attempt to draw the offenders out of their web-world and into the light.
Detectives posed online as under-aged girls and boys, exchanging messages with the suspects and arranging to meet. Over the past week, undercover deputies invited the suspects to an undisclosed house in Bradenton where deputies swooped in to arrest them.
"They start coming in and, really, it's busy for the whole week," Sheriff's spokesman Dave Bristow said. This most recent operation drew fewer arrests, he said, but those caught represented a cross section of the community.
"The average age this time was about 36, 37 years old," he said. "As young as 19 and as old as the early 70s."
Each of the 25 is being charged with using a computer to solicit a child to commit sex acts, traveling to solicit a child to commit sex acts and attempted lewd and lascivious battery.
"A lot of them brought alcohol and drugs," Bristow said.