The Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday said that the group of 17 people have been charged with 49 felonies and two misdemeanours, including “travelling to meet a minor for sex, attempted lewd battery, use of a computer to seduce a child and transmission of material harmful to a child.”
Police are calling it “Operation Child Protector”. Grady Judd, the Polk County sheriff, told the media: “You have got to know who your children are talking to, who they are communicating with.”
The detectives had posed as children on social media apps and dating sites.
Police said that the majority of the 17 suspects had communicated with undercover agents — who had posed as 13 or 14-year-old children — and then travelled to a location “with the intention of meeting and sexually battering the victims.”
ABC News in Polk County reported that police said six of the suspects brought condoms to the meet-ups. Two sent sexually explicit messages, photos and videos to the underage targets online. And three suspects — Kenneth Javier Aquino, Jonathan McGrew and Sarah Lawrence — were employed by Disney, police said.
Mr Aquino, 26, was wearing his Disney polo shirt, swim trunks and crocs when he was arrested by undercover detectives on 27 July, Mr Judd informed the media, adding: “He bragged about his prowess and how wonderful he was. He left his girlfriend who was seven months pregnant with his child in order to have sex with a child.”
Mr McGrew, 34, and his girlfriend Ms Lawrence, 29, allegedly tried to arrange a threesome with an undercover detective posing as a 14-year-old girl on 1 August.
Both are from Kissimmee and were custodians at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
At least 35 Disney employees have been arrested for charges related to child sex abuse between 2006 and 2014, according to PIX.
The New York Post reported that all those arrested were from Central Florida except for one 33-year-old man who was from California. Mr Judd said: “What you see on this board … are deviants. Incredible deviants. They travel from as far away as Clewiston, Florida. One even came from Los Angeles.”
He added: “Much to their chagrin, instead of meeting with young children, they were met by law enforcement officers who were online undercover posing as children.”
The Independent has contacted Disney for comment on the operation.