A St. Petersburg firefighter and a registered sex offender from Manatee County are among 43 arrested in an undercover sting targeting adults trolling the Internet for sex with minors.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office identiified the 43 suspects arrested in the past week, and their addresses include Manatee, Pinellas, Sarasota, Lake, Hillsborough, Charlotte and Collier counties.
Jeremy Wert, a 35-year-old firefighter from St. Petersburg was among those arrested. A total of six men from Pinellas County were arrested. One of the 43 has an Ohio address but is staying in Lakewood Ranch.
Authorities say the men were going online to solicit sex with children.
Detectives posing as parents and as children went online to several computer chat rooms that are set up for people to anonymously talk about sex and to set up meetings, investigators said.
The forum in one of the chat rooms centered on incest. On that site detectives posed as parents offering their children up for sexual encounters.
Detectives in various undercover capacities subsequently set up meetings with the defendants at an undercover residence in Manatee County. The men went to the residence believing they were meeting up with a juvenile for a sexual encounter, authorities said.
The defendants were arrested on charges including Travel to Seduce, Solicit or Entice a Child to Commit Sexual Act and Use of a Computer to Seduce, Solicit or Entice a Child to Commit Sexual Act.
Some of the defendants were also charged with Transmission of Materials harmful to Minors by Electronic Device or Equipment, Lewd and Lascivious Molestation, Attempted Capital Sexual Battery and Possession of Drugs.
Among those arrested was Eugene Marshal, 43, a registered sexual predator who lives in Manatee County. For the complete list of the 43 suspects arrested, see Underage Sex Sting Arrest List.
The investigation is ongoing with additional arrests and charges forthcoming. FDLE, ICE, the Bradenton Police Department, and the Sarasota, Polk, Lee and Lake County Sheriff’s Offices are assisting in the investigation.Jeremy Wert
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