A Polk County, Florida undercover operation targeting pedophiles resulted in 38 arrests this week, according to various press releases and news reports. The arrested parties, all male, range from 18-50 and reportedly include a father who traveled to Orlando to go to Disney World with his family, a war veteran, and a 5th grade teacher. The defendants were reportedly charged with traveling to meet a minor for sex, along with other crimes. It remains unclear whether any of them has retained a private criminal defense lawyer.
The operation, reportedly dubbed Operation Cyber Child, was a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The U.S. State Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and numerous area Sheriff's offices and police departments (including Osceola, Polk, and Sarasota Counties). It took 10 days to complete the sting, which spanned from June 1st to June 10th. Reports indicate that the operation was the 9th of its' kind to be conducted by the Polk County Sheiff's Office, which is the Central Florida Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force coordinator.
Press reports indicate that during the sting, a team of around three dozen undercover officers posted profiles or advertisements on websites (such as Craigslist) where they pretended to be children or the parents or guardians of children. The ads normally claimed to offer sex with the child. The agency has used this tactic in several other stings, which were carried out in the exact same way. According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office press release, "despite the repeated warnings and media coverage of past operations, numerous men responded to the ads."
The press report indicates that the defendants communicated with the detectives via email, phone call, and texting, often sending nude photos or webcam images and asking for such images of the minors to be sent in return. The defendants then allegedly arranged to travel to a set home under the impression that they would be able to commit sex crimes with the children. However, instead of being met with a child, the defendants were arrested. It is not clear whether any of the defendants have commented publicly on the charges.
According to reports, one of those arrested in the operation was Matthew Chillcott of Orlando, Florida. The 41-year-old reportedly teaches 5th grade and coaches soccer at Lawton Chiles Elementary School. Typically, elementary school students are 6-11 years old. Chillcott has been accused of contacting a detective posing as a 14-year-old girl starting in January 2012. He allegedly traveled to the specified home after the 'girl' agreed to have sex with him. It is not known whether Lawton Chiles Elementary has commented on the charges. If convicted, Chillcott will likely not be eligible to return to educating children.
Another one of the defendants is reportedly a father who was visiting Walt Disney World with his family. The man allegedly dropped his family off at the theme park before traveling to the home in order to have sex with a minor. Yet another defendant, a 27-year-old man, is reportedly a military veteran. The details of his arrest have not been disclosed.