BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Local, state, and federal authorities released the result of a nationwide child sex sting called ‘Operation Cross Country XIII.
They say they arrested 19 people who were trying to engage in sex acts with minors.
It is the 13th such annual sting operation run by the FBI and designed to catch online predators.
Multiple agencies participated this year, working out of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
“19 individuals were arrested during the course of this three-day operation, 14 were charged with traveling to meet a minor for sexual activity, five were charged with possession of child pornography, traveling to meet a minor for sexual activities,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.
On July 21st, 22nd and 23rd, officers monitored the social media accounts they created, posing as minors.
“There will be talk of the meeting for sexual activity and then the defendant would then take some overt act and almost all of these cases, they traveled to an agreed upon location thinking that they were meeting a minor for sexual activity,” Ford said.
When the suspect shows up, law enforcement is waiting.
“Then we have takedown teams, we have analysts that are researching these people, finding out what kind of cars they’re driving, who they are, what they actually look like and that’s based on just using everybody to ultimately put these people behind bars,” Panama City Beach Detective Andrew Pelletier said.
Ford said these arrests directly impact a national issue.
“This is why we have human trafficking in this country with people like this that are that meet the demand for that if you’ve got people that are willing to meet a child for this kind of activity, then that really kind of increases our chances for human trafficking,” Ford said.
Officials have a strong message for anyone who tries to engage with a minor in Bay County.
“If you come to Bay County or if you’re in Bay County and your goal is to hurt a child, we will find you and we will put you behind bars,” Pelletier said.
Ford said seven of the defendants were also found to be here illegally.