OSI helps crackdown child predators, 14 arrested during FBI-led effort

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

In a sweeping multi-agency crackdown targeting child predators, the Office of Special Investigations helped enable Operation Cross-Country XIII in Northwest Florida from July 21-23. 

According to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, the multi-agency undercover investigation resulted in 14 individuals, ranging from ages 18 to 78, arrested for traveling to engage in sexual activity with a minor. Five were arrested for possession of child porn.

Across the nation, the FBI reported more than 200 victims of sex trafficking were rescued during a nationwide enforcement campaign last month. 

“Operation Cross Country helps spotlight this problem and sends message that we will all remain vigilant to take down those who prey on our country’s most innocent population,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Coult Markovsky, FBI Jacksonville Division. 

The operation was part of a broader investigation including multiple law enforcement agencies, including OSI, that leveraged social media platforms to identify and apprehend child predators that included the identification or arrest of more than five dozen suspected human traffickers and 126 individuals accused of child sexual exploitation and trafficking offenses, the FBI reported. 

The initiative is a coordinated operation that went beyond OSI, extending to other federal agencies, state and local police and social services agencies across the country to find and assist victims of human trafficking, particularly child victims.

“At the operation center, we engaged with the undercover chatters where we learned the techniques and skills of chatting online with predators,” said Special Agent Destiny Flores, OSI Det. 223 investigator. “We offered the undercover chatters websites and mobile applications we believed predators would use to best produce results.”

That operation involving Det. 223 was not confined to Northwest Florida, where the sting was conducted. Some individuals traveled from various regions of Florida, including Jacksonville and Tampa. The individuals were apprehended across various jurisdictions in Florida. 

From here, the suspects face charges including second-degree felony of traveling to meet with a minor, which could pack a serious amount of jail time. For example, the crime of traveling to meet a minor could face 15 years in prison. 

In the face of this alarming reality, OSI officials stress the importance for parents and guardians to monitor their children’s online activities. 

"In today's interconnected world, the safety of our children in the online realm demands our unwavering attention,” said Special Agent David Shaver, OSI Internet Crimes Against Children Operations Manager Liaison Officer. 

In addition, the operation also underscores the importance of OSI and other law agencies execute in the fight against child exploitation. 

“Together, we can create a digital haven that shields all children from the grasp of predators and empowers them to explore the online world safely,” Shaver said. 

As this fight continues, officials agree that the success of an operation like this gives hope that, one by one, child predators will be brought to justice.

“The close relationship Det. 223 has with our local, state and federal counterparts is critical to operations like Cross Country 13 being a resounding success,” said Special Agent Logan Fleming, Det. 223 commander. “The seamless coordination and crossflow of information between agencies enables my team to assist in efforts like this operation without the slightest hesitation and with absolute confidence.

“OSI devotes a wealth of resources to combat child sexual exploitation,” he added. “We will continue our relentless pursuit of locating child predators. For the people out there exploiting children, it’s not a matter of whether you will be caught, it’s a matter of when.”