HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A registered sex offender and a former sergeant with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office were among 16 people arrested in a sting targeting child predators.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister held a press conference Wednesday morning to share more details from “Operation Small Talk,” an undecover sting.
“The conversations, text messages and photos from these predators are so graphic, I can’t even begin to describe them, other than to say they are repulsive,” Chronister said.
Chronister said some of the men showed up to meet the teens with products they had purchased to use for sex.
Among those arrested was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Melvin Rosa Viera, and former Manatee County Sheriff’s Office sergeant, Stephen Utter.
Deputies also arrested a registered sex offender, Michael Daughtry, and Matthew Jones, who was charged with 51 counts of possession of child pornography.
“As a mother, I am deeply disturbed at how many predators are out there, online and in our communities, looking to harm children. Thanks to great police work, there are a few less in our midst today and that should serve as a bold warning to anyone looking to harm a child in Florida,” Moody said.
Moody, who has a young son who enjoys the internet, said she and her husband take precautions to keep their son safe.
“But I ask all the time, everyday, repeatedly, anytime he’s been on the internet: who did you play with today? Tell me who these names are? If he can’t, they can’t be friends anymore,” she said.
Moody urged people to check out the Attorney General’s website which explains ways to keep children safe from the perils of the internet.