Original Article (Video available)
By Travis Gettys
Police posed as underage teens online to lure men into breaking the law as part of an apparent revenue scheme by Florida law enforcement agencies, according to an investigation of newly released public records.
Emails and other online communications analyzed by WTSP-TV revealed that many of the men who were eventually arrested were not interested in meeting children but were instead seeking adult sex partners – until they encountered undercover officers.
Law enforcement agencies fought open-records requests by the TV station, which eventually gained access to investigation reports from cases that resulted in arrest – but not from those that did not.
Police fought the requests by claiming the investigations remained open, but one agency claimed it had already destroyed records from one sting just one month after it was conducted.
Clearwater police seized 19 cars in January 2014, the station reported, when a joint sting with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office arrested 35 men in one weekend.
The two departments arrested at least 20 other men three months later and 11 more in September in similar stings that netted 12 more seized vehicles, the station reported.
One of the men arrested in the first sting paid $10,000 to get his 2014 Lexus returned, and the 24-year-old won’t get any of that money back even though all felony charges were eventually dropped in his case.
The station found that many of the men arrested in the stings had posted or responded to personal ads seeking adults, but police often steered the conversation to underage children or posed as adults with younger siblings who were interested in meeting.