Fifteen men allegedly looking to have sex with underage girls were arrested in an undercover sting in Florida over the weekend, law enforcement authorities said.
The suspects were arrested between Thursday and Sunday and charged with traveling to meet a minor for sex or related crimes, during an extensive undercover operation conducted by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, along with state and federal officials.
Police said 12 of the 15 suspects responded to ads authorities posted on Craigslist that shared the common theme “mom or dad seeking guidance for my daughter” for girls between 10 and 14 years old. The other three used chat rooms.
After the suspects answered the ads, they engaged undercover detectives in e-mails, instant messages and telephone calls, during which time the detectives told the suspects to come to an undercover location in Polk County, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said.
“These men expressed specific desires to prey upon who they believed were innocent children,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Monday at a news conference.
One of the suspects, Brandon Cashen, 31, asked a detective if she had a daughter younger than the one advertised, and when she said she had an 8-year-old, expressed a desire to have sex with the younger daughter, the sheriff's office said.
“Some of the men even sent pornographic images of themselves to the detectives and made very specific requests about what they wanted these children to do to them,” Judd said.
When the suspects arrived at the undercover location, they were met not by children wearing lingerie, but by undercover agents in vests, who placed the men under arrest.
"It's still a shock to me …when we have a predator show up with condoms in one hand and candy bars in the other hand," Judd said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
Judd said one of the agents was shocked to discover that a suspect, 33-year-old Tommy Dupre, had been his son's former baseball coach.
"This gentleman coached youth sports baseball in Lakeland. Our undercover sergeant recognized him because he coached his son 8-10 years of age," Judd said.
The suspects range in age from 18 to 67. Six of the suspects, including Cashen, are married, and one has six children of his own and one on the way, Judd said.
Cashen’s wife was shocked to hear the news of her husband’s arrest, Judd said, and told police, “He can rot in hell before I bond him out of jail.”
The wife of Kevin Scott, 35, had similar sentiments, telling police, “I never want to see him again, I don’t want my children see him again, I hope he rots in jail for life.”
Judd said the oldest suspect, Donald Knuckles, said he'd waited his entire life for the opportunity to have sex with a 14-year-old girl and her mother, police said.
Another, Gregory Alan Archambault II, 32, "bragged that when he was 16 he had sex with an 8-year-old girl, and when he was 21 he had sex with a 12-year-old girl," Judd said.
Authorities are now investigating "to see if we can determine when they may have victimized other children along the way … to make sure we charge them with everything we can charge them with," Judd said.
Members of the Tenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, State Attorney Jerry Hill, Attorney General Bill McCollum’s Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, the Lakeland Police Department and the Plant City Police Department also contributed to the operation.