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Federal authorities arrested a 67-year-old Manatee County man they allege used Craigslist to try to set arrange a sexual encounter with a 10-year-old girl.

According to the Department of Justice, an FBI special agent found an advertisement in the “all personals” section of Craigslist referring to a single white male seeking a “family dynamic.”

Authorities claim that last week, the accused engaged in email communications with the undercover agent posing as the father of a 10-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy. During the online communications, the man allegedly told the undercover agent that he wanted to engage in sexual conduct with the minors.

6853270358_c89271d21d_mAccording to authorities, the man traveled to Altamonte Springs on Thursday, where he had arranged to meet the father of the minors for the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct. He was taken into custody upon his arrival at the location.

The Justice Department claims the man admitted to going to Altamonte Springs to explore the possibility of having sex with a 10-year-old girl. Investigators claim the man also shared that he has been involved in a bondage, dominance, sado masochistic lifestyle for about 10 years.

He is charged with attempting to persuade, induce, and entice a minor to engage in illicit sexual conduct. He faces 10 years to life in prison.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice to put an end to the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ilianys Rivera Miranda.

Sexual offenses, especially those involving minors, tend to elicit much public outrage and condemnation than any other type of crime. Those that are accused of these crimes are made out to appear like they lead double lives and and should be stripped of their basic constitutional freedoms. Due to the intense stigma attached to sex crimes, it is not uncommon for people to falsely accuse a family member, neighbor, teacher or anyone else they do not like of committing a sexually motivated crime. Even worse, prosecutors have been known to rely on false testimony and statements in order to obtain a conviction. Even if the allegations are eventually proved false, the results can still be devastating for the accused.

When it comes to sex crimes, law enforcement and prosecutors will try and do everything in their power to persuade you to confess to the crime in question. Understand that pleading guilty can result in a lengthy prison sentence as well as lifetime registration as a sexual offender. These cases require a sex crimes defense lawyer who can look for holes in the prosecution’s case and fight aggressively for you.

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A 19-year-old man with a self-described meth problem was arrested Monday and charged with raping a 5-year-old girl.

The child is apparently the daughter of a woman with whom he is acquainted.

Investigators claim the man, who is described as a homeless man with ties to Citrus County, admitted to raping the child while her mother slept on a couch in her Inverness home. According to detectives, the man said he has serious problems with drugs and that he tried to first have sex with the girl’s mother, but she would not wake up.

A relative of the girl’s mother who also lives at the residence reported the crime to authorities.

gavelAccording to the arrest affidavit, the relative said she returned home last Saturday and found the man sweating and nervous. She claims the girl looked pale and scared. The relative said the man denied that anything had gone on, but the child later told her that the man had taken her to a bed and raped her.

The man was arrested in Hernando on Monday and taken to the Citrus County Jail. He was charged with sexual battery on a child under 12.

Sexual battery is considered to be one of the world’s worst crimes. Sex crimes involving young children are often considered more heinous than murder. Prosecutors despise sexual battery cases, which is why they prosecute sex crimes so aggressively. Unfortunately, this leads to many false convictions, enhanced sentences and ruined lives for those that are falsely accused or who receive harsher sentences than they deserve.

If you have been accused of a sex crime, it is very important to contact a Citrus County Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton immediately. Even if you have not been formally charged, you still need the help of an attorney right away. Sex crime cases can sometimes bypass criminal prosecution and be settled out of court. Even if law enforcement is already involved, we may be able reach an agreement that works in the best interest of both parties. In order to have the highest chance at receiving a successful outcome for your particular situation, it is best to act fast before things spiral out of control.

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A ring of 74 suspected drug dealers allegedly infiltrating Lake County with cocaine, heroin and prescription pills have been charged with various drug-related charges.

These arrests come after a four-month undercover investigation where the Lake County Sheriff’s Office claims the members of the drug ring were caught red handed. The charges resulted from the undercover operation dubbed “Close to Home,” which was started due to numerous citizen complaints. Investigators claim they seized two pounds of heroin, seven ounces of cocaine and about 300 prescription pills, totaling nearly $140,000 in street value.

The Sheriff’s Office announced that those involved in this alleged drug ring never strayed too far from home. They allegedly made transactions where families are shopping with their children.

5829666604_516663f8ee_mSo far, arrest warrants have been served on 67 suspects. The investigation was conducted by the Lake County Sheriff’s office along with Clermont, Mount Dora and Leesburg police departments, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Orlando division of the U.S. Marshal’s Office. The state Department of Children and Families is also involved. Children found in the homes that were searched have been placed with other family members.

Investigators also seized 23 vehicles, including two BMWs and two Suzuki motorcycles, along with 20 guns and about $33,000 in cash. According to officials, the vehicles will be sold or used by the participating agencies.

A majority of the suspects, ranging in age from 18 to 60, are from south Lake, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Police believe the suspected ring leader is a 27-year-old man from Clermont who has a history of drug and criminal charges.

In most large-scale drug trafficking investigations, it is quite common for police to conduct multiple undercover drug transactions with the same suspect, or in this case suspects, before making an arrest. This is just one tactic that allows police to gain new evidence as well as new suspects as they continue to perform undercover transactions. This also gives law enforcement and the State’s Attorney’s Office a powerful edge in negotiating strategies as they can prosecute suspects for numerous different criminal counts.

Those who are facing any type of drug charges must take these matters very seriously. A conviction will likely result in jail time, not to mention a criminal record, which could limit one’s chances of obtaining employment or qualifying for a loan.

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Deputies allege that a San Antonio man arranged to meet what he thought was a 13-year-old girl at a Brooksville hotel for sex.

The 61-year-old man was arrested Wednesday on charges of attempted lewd and lascivious behavior, traveling to meet/seduce a minor and using a computer to solicit a minor.

1577999575_d8f36326f7_mThe man had been engaged in long-term computer chats with a person he believed to be a 13-year-old girl, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. At some point during the course of the conversations, deputies claim the man asked to meet the girl.

The two allegedly arranged to meet at the Holiday Inn Express on Cortez Boulevard, deputies said. The man apparently unknowingly told undercover officials that he would meet the girl at 2 p.m. and described the vehicle he would be driving.

The man was arrested after arriving at the hotel. He is being held in the Hernando County Detention Center on $17,000 bond.

In the state of Florida, it is illegal to use the Internet to make plans to travel to a designated location to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18. Police are known for conducting Internet sting operations where they set up fake chat rooms or send out fabricated messages of a solicitous nature, usually where they act like a minor in order to lure unsuspecting individuals into making arrangements to meet somewhere for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.

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A 62-year-old Daytona Beach man pleaded no contest to charges that he was sexually abusing his small female dog on Thursday, according to the state attorney’s office.

Reports indicate that neighbors of the man said they saw the accused have sex with his 8-month-old dog.

Authorities allege that the dog showed signs of sexual abuse. They further claim that the dog was tied up to a post with no food or water, according to the report.

police-378255_150The pit bull mix is now in the custody of animal rescue.

The man pleaded no contest to felony cruelty to animals and sexual activities involving animals.

His sentencing has been scheduled for next month and he faces up to five years in prison.

Animal cruelty charges can range in severity from misdemeanors to felonies, depending on the behavior in question. Animal cruelty becomes a third-degree felony under Florida law when a person intentionally commits any act on any animal that results in excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering or cruelty that results in death of the animal. When animal cruelty is charged as a third-degree felony it carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and five years in prison. If prosecutors can show that the person accused of the animal cruelty violation knowingly and intentionally tortured or tormentented the animal to the point that it resulted in the injury, mutilation or death of the animal, the mandatory minimum fine for the offense will be $2,500 and the offender will be obligated to complete counseling or anger management courses.

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A Plant City youth group volunteer is facing child pornography charges.

Polk deputies arrested the 28-year-old man at his Lakeland home.

According to the sheriff’s office, members at the church came forward after they found explicit images on a shared computer and became concerned.

7606416730_26cb8b5536_mDeputies claim the man works with 30 to 40 children in his position and that he uses social media to chat with others interested in trading child pornography.

The senior pastor at the church released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

“We are shocked and deeply grieved but thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ that He brought this into the light. The information received from law enforcement officials leads us to believe that four images were inadvertently downloaded from a personal mobile device belonging to the accused when it was tethered to a church computer. This computer did not have internet access and we are told that the images were acquired in Polk County. None of the images were of children who attended the church. We have been told that there is no reason to suspect that anything else occurred at the facility. We perform background checks and conduct children’s safety training with every children’s ministry worker whether staff or volunteer. We will continue to cooperate with Law Enforcement and we will continue to work diligently to ensure the safety of our children. As this is an ongoing investigation, we have no other comments at this time. Thank you for your prayers and concern.”

The man faces two counts of possession of child pornography. According to deputies, more charges could be coming.

Child pornography charges are often leveled against productive members of society such as doctors, lawyers, public officials, military officers and others at a very high frequency.  Prosecutors love these types of cases because after conducting a search and discovering child pornograpy on a computer all they have to do to prove it is trace any illegal images to a users IP address. In many instances, the accused will feel trapped and confess or try and talk their way out of trouble by saying they did not mean to download the material in question.

Prosecutors usually seek maximum punishments in child porn cases. For simply possessing a few images, you could be looking at many years in prison. Federal child pornography offenses carry mandatory minimum sentences, meaning you will serve time behind bars. In order to avoid the harsh consequences that accompany a conviction, it is essential to act quickly as soon as you have been accused of any wrongdoing.

First and foremost, do not speak with law enforcement officials or prosecutors, and second, seek out a sex crimes defense lawyer right away and follow any advice given. Remember, just because you are being investigated for child porn, this does not mean you are guilty of the charges. However, these types of cases must be handled very carefully to avoid devastating probation restrictions, lengthy prison terms and a lifetime of sex offender registration.

If you or someone you love has been accused of possessing child pornography or any other related sex crime, a Polk County Criminal Defense Attorney at Whittel & Melton can help. Call us today statewide and toll-free at 866-608-5529 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.


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Former Saturday Night Live funnyman Chris Kattan received his sentence six months after he was arrested on suspicion of a DUI.

The 43-year-old comedian is required to pay a $500 fine, attend a three-month alcohol program, 104 Narcotics Anonymous classes, and will be on probation for the next three years, according to reports. Moreover, he is banned from driving with any drugs in his system, unless he has a valid prescription, and has been ordered to participate in the Hospital and Morgue Program, which is designed to show people the potential tragic consequences of their reckless behavior.

The Night at the Roxbury star was arrested in mid-February early in the morning after he crashed his Mercedes into a Department of Transportation vehicle that was parked on the side of a Los Angeles freeway doing maintenance work. While no one was injured in the accident, Kattan did fail a field sobriety test and was arrested and booked into the Van Nuys jail. He was released a short time later on a $15,000 bond.

7th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball - Red CarpetSince receiving his sentence, Kattan has not commented on the incident.

The case is not completely settled just yet. Next month, a restitution hearing will be held to determine how much money Kattan owes the state for damage to the truck he hit.

DUI charges for driving under the influence of drugs are usually treated just the same as DUI charges stemming from alcohol use. There is one difference between the two, which is how police measure impairment. For an alcohol-related DUI, police usually measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration using a Breathalyzer device or blood test and then compare the results to the legal limit, 0.08 percent. For a drug-related DUI, the methods law enforcement uses to determine impairment is much more subjective.

Police commonly rely on observations made during field sobriety tests, which allows an officer to observe a suspected DUI driver’s attention level, state of mind, balance, physical ability and other factors that the officer then will use to decide whether the suspect is impaired. While the presence of drugs can be found using blood tests, the existence of drugs in a person’s blood stream may not solely be an indicator that a person was driving under the influence of the substance.

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Investigators claim they discovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in marijuana from seven grow houses in Pasco County after they stopped by to check out claims of electric theft.

According to reports, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office said they were alerted to the seven houses by officials with Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative after the company learned that more than $206,000 worth of power had been stolen over the course of the past two weeks.

When investigators got to each home, they allegedly found elaborate marijuana grow operations. The sheriff’s office believes the grow houses are the work of of an organized crime ring because the wiring installed to steal the electricity at each home appears to be the same.

4151958797_286773e01e_mAs of now, only one arrest has been made. A 50-year-old Port Richey man has been charged with trafficking and cultivating marijuana and theft of utilities. Police anticipate more arrests as the investigation continues to unfold.

While the manufacturing of marijuana may not take place in a laboratory the same way many drugs like methamphetamines are produced, the cultivation of marijuana is a very serious offense in the state of Florida. Due to its Schedule I classification as an illegal substance, arrests stemming from marijuana-related offenses will generally result in felony charges.

If you have been charged with or have been arrested for or accused of growing marijuana, you are probably feeling extremely scared and under intense pressure. Consulting with a Pasco County Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton could help alleviate some of your stress, and at the same time provide you with a plan of action to make it through the legal process without suffering life-altering consequences.

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The local chair of American Civil Liberties Union is calling for a federal review of Central Florida’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

Ret. Army Col. Mike Pheneger, the chair of the Greater Tampa Chapter of the ACLU, said there are many problems with these “To Catch a Predator”-style undercover stings, which are extremely popular in West/Central Florida.

Pheneger, who has also held ACLU leadership positions at the state and national level, said this: “The Justice Department (should) be asked to look into this, since this is federal money that’s involved here. Find out if they are following the rules, because it would appear they are not.”

gavelThe Central Florida ICAC task force, under the authority of Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, started reaching out to men who were simply posting perfectly legal ads on legitimate dating websites. A handful of judges have even criticized officers’ overreach, their “failing to follow procedures” during undercover operations, as well as methods used to nettle “a law-abiding citizen to commit a crime.”

According to a 10 Investigates analysis, out of more than 1,200 Florida arrests since 2008, many of the subjects of the stings often had no previous criminal record and were able to avoid jail time. In fact, many prosecutors have shown leniency, based on the facts of the case and the likelihood the accused might actually commit a crime on a real child.

“It’s important to put actual sex offenders in jail,” Pheneger added. “Law enforcement should be going after those people, not trying to entice people who have shown no disposition to any kind of criminal behavior toward children.”

Many local agencies, such as the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, do not take part in these sting operations. Rather, they focus their efforts on more immediate dangers in the cyber crime realm, such as child porn and sex trafficking.

ICAC guidelines, which were obtained by 10 Investigates through court records, demonstrate that these online undercover stings, which usually don’t involve real children or victims, are not even specified in the list of priorities agencies are supposed to use to target suspected predators. Here are the regulations:

  1. A child is at immediate risk of victimization.
  2. A child is vulnerable to victimization by a known offender.
  3. A known suspect is aggressively soliciting a child(ren).
  4. Manufacturers, distributors or possessors of images that appear to be home photography with domiciled children.
  5. Aggressive, high-volume child pornography manufacturers or distributors who either are commercial distributors, repeat offenders, or specialize in sadistic images.
  6. Manufacturers, distributors, or solicitors involved in high-volume trafficking or belong to an organized child pornography ring that operates as a criminal conspiracy.
  7. Distributors, solicitors and possessors of images of child pornography.
  8. Any other form of child victimization.

ICAC guidelines also mandate that law enforcement must uncover whether there is reasonable cause to investigate every possible suspect. However, according to 10 News, Judd said he would not turn over public records on the sting because every single person his task force came in contact with, even those who showed zero interest in the underage decoys, was still “under investigation.”

Pheneger said it would be a clear violation of civil liberties if Judd was investigating men who exhibited no signs of breaking the law as there is no “reasonable cause” for them to be investigated.

There has been much disappointment expressed over the fact that Judd told 10 Investigates just last week that he had no remorse about holding a press conference to call men “sexual predators” who had been cleared of wrongdoing.

Judd, as well as other local law enforcement agencies, stand to lose millions of dollars in federal grants if there are ICAC violations.

It will be interesting to see if there are any ICAC violations stemming from these online sex stings and if so, what the consequences will be.

Unfortunately, being the target of an undercover sex crimes investigation can be humiliating and problematic for your work, social and personal life. The mere accusation of being a sexual predator can create a very negative situation for you and those close to you.

Charges resulting from Internet sex stings can start in state court and possibly move to federal court. A Polk County Criminal Defense Lawyer at Whittel & Melton is equipped to handle both state and federal charges, which is very important because if you are facing federal charges, the consequences are much harsher, including mandatory-minimum prison terms.

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The High Springs Police Department and the Alachua-Gainesville Drug Task Force uncovered what they believe is a methamphetamine lab last week while investigating a case of fraud.

HSPD was investigating a 34-year-old man for alleged fraudulent use of a credit card when they received a confidential tip that the man had methamphetamine inside a cooler at or near a home in High Springs, according to reports.

HSPD went to the man’s home after obtaining a narcotics search warrant. They arrived at the man’s house around 8 p.m. Wednesday and allegedly found a cooler on the north side of the residence containing items used for cooking methamphetamine.

2690501345_dee8d3276d_mThe Alachua-Gainesville Drug Task Force helped execute the warrant and the High Springs Fire Department was on scene for safety reasons.

The man was in the custody of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office before the investigation began of the drug charges. The man is now facing additional charges of possession with intent to manufacture or sell a controlled substance.

In the state of Florida, possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver can be classified as a second or third degree felony. The charges all depend on the type of substance involved. The consequences of a conviction for this type of drug charge are extremely harsh, with a very significant possibility of jail or prison time.

It is important to realize that in many Florida drug possession cases, the accused does not have any actual intent to sell the drugs in question. The term “intent to sell or manufacture” is usually added to simple possession charges in order to increase the penalties of an offense or intimidate the accused.

In most cases, the evidence admitted by the prosecution for charges of possession with intent to sell or manufacture are consistent with personal use. Paraphernalia found on the property is often used to tack on additional charges. However, it can be difficult for the prosecution to prove that the accused was in possession of all the drugs and/or paraphernalia that indicated an intent to sell.

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