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Articles Posted in Polk County

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A Lakeland middle school teacher was arrested at his Winter Haven home Tuesday for allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student.

The 28-year-old man is a media teacher at Southwest Middle School in Lakeland.

Police claim he forced himself on the girl while he supervised her community service at the school this summer.

7606416730_26cb8b5536_mInvestigators allege that the student was afraid to tell anyone what happened, but she told a therapist who then told her parents. Her parents are the ones who contacted police.

According to reports, police believe the man texted the girl, gave her e-cigarettes, lingerie and small bottles of alcohol.

Investigators claim they found physical evidence at the man’s home to back up the girl’s story – an alleged receipt for the returned lingerie.

According to LPD, the man confessed to having sex with the student. He is being held at the Polk County jail without bond.

Polk County’s school superintendent said the man has been suspended without pay and she is recommending to the school board that he be fired.

According to the school district, the man was hired on Oct. 25, 2010, and has had no prior discipline or investigations, according to his personnel file.

Sexual assault cases are quite serious, and the potential penalties for these sex crimes are even more serious if committed by a person in authority, like a teacher. That state of Florida does not take these charges lightly. With that said, sometimes prosecutors and law enforcement are a bit overzealous when it comes to sex crimes cases, which makes wrongful convictions and wrongly escalated charges very possible. In certain situations, false allegations can put well-respected teachers or administrators behind bars for behaviors or actions they did not actually commit. Working with a Polk County Sex Crimes Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can help make sure that you do not end up serving an unnecessary sentence. Sex crimes have grave penalties including prison time, substantial fines and sex offender registration, so it is in your best interest to work with a sex crimes defense attorney as soon as you learn you are the target of a sexual assault investigation.

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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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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.

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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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Several law enforcement agencies from the federal, state and county level have joined forces with the hopes of catching alleged sexual predators.

While the operation spans across nine counties, including Polk, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, the message is the same: “We’re going to get you.”

10673440736_06f59d7f30_mThe message was made loud and clear Tuesday when the agencies released details from a recent online sex sting- “Operation Cyber Vigilance”- during which they are tracking down men believed to be looking to arrange sexual encounters with children.

Due to the fact that the Florida Sheriff’s Association has made catching child predators its number one priority, the agencies are utilizing each other’s manpower to make the biggest impact, and the most arrests.

So far, officials have arrested more than 130 people.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made a note to let everyone know they are going after the worst of the worst, and described one of the most recent arrests.

“So she’s out there working- trying to provide for the family. He’s at home with a 13 and 14-year-old sleeping, and what’s he do? He gets online, and starts chatting with one of our undercover detectives,” he explained. “And he leaves his 13 and 14-year-old daughters at home sleeping in bed, and comes up to Pinellas County to have sex with a 12-year-old.”

This most recent operation is designed for agencies to help one another. with that said, if the Polk County Sheriff’s Office launches an undercover sting, it might get help from Pinellas, Sarasota and Lee Counties, and visa versa.

In addition to the nine counties conducting the operation, eight others are contributing to the efforts.

The criminal justice system is often merciless when it comes to child sex crimes cases – they make it known that they are out for blood. Unfortunately, this usually means the innocent get swept up along with the guilty.

Detectives are so eager to catch alleged sexual offenders in undercover Internet stings that they tend to go overboard, often entrapping unsuspecting adults. Police will enter online chat rooms and masquerade as young boys or girls, or even parents or guardians of young children, looking for a partner to introduce them to the world of sex. They will drum up online conversations with adults and in many cases, manipulate them into soliciting illegal sexual activity.

And we all know what happens next – that person will be arrested and charged with a sex crime. In a matter of minutes, a person’s life can be flipped upside down. The legal consequences of a conviction can result in years in prison and mandatory registration as a sexual offender. The social and professional consequences of a sex crimes conviction can be just as bad for those convicted of child sexual abuse or child pornography.

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Florida will have 159 new laws starting Tuesday that address various issues, including college tuition, corporate tax credits, abortions and sex offenders.

One of the most prevalent laws is one that aims to protect children and others from dangerous sex offenders. The laws are intended to keep the most violent sexual offenders locked up longer and close any loopholes in a law that allows the state to send predators to a high-security treatment center once they have served their time in prison. The new laws will subject more offenders to potential civil commitment and prosecutors, detectives and victim advocates will be part of the committee that reviews their cases.

The sexually violent predator package of bills was among the first of the legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott during the 60-day session that ended in May. The new laws are meant to create a better child welfare system in Florida. As of now, Florida is the only state in America that has a 50-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for violent sexual offenders.

gavelAnother law that seeks to protect children concerns the Department of Children and Families. The law changes how the department investigates and responds to cases; now placing a higher emphasis on shielding a child from abuse rather than focusing on keeping a family together. Moreover, the law also pays for 270 additional child protective investigators so that caseloads can be reduced and a response team can be sent out quickly to investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous dealings with the system.

Another law will establish a statewide pilot program to pay for foster children’s driver’s education classes, license fees and car insurance so that they can be better prepared to gain employment when they turn 18 and leave the system.

The children of immigrants in the country illegally will now be able to receive in-state tuition at state universities after Scott changed his position on the issue. Another bill will give tuition breaks to honorably discharged veterans as well as waive professional licensing fees for them.

Local school boards now have the responsibility of selecting textbooks, whether or not they are on a state-adopted list, and will be required to put policies in place that allow parents to object to the books they choose.

Another new law took effect on June 20 that expands a voucher program, giving corporate tax credits to companies that provide money for low-income families to send their children to private schools.

As far as criminal laws go, there will be increased penalties for spiny lobster poachers, people leaving the scene of an accident that causes injury and people who illegally sell prescription drugs. Additionally, electronic cigarette sales to minors are now illegal in Florida. Another law forbids sending text messages soliciting products to residents on the state’s “no sales solicitation calls” list.

Florida has also changed its definition for its late-term abortion ban. Abortions will be illegal in Florida at any stage in a woman’s pregnancy if her doctor concludes that the fetus could survive outside the womb. The previous law banned abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. An exception can be made to this law if the mother’s life is at risk.

Lastly, new laws will create a Florida Tourism Hall of Fame and the position of state poet laureate to promote poetry in Florida.

Laws across the United States are constantly changing. When you have been accused of committing a crime in Florida, only a Florida Trial Lawyer at Whittel & Melton can provide you with the legal representation that you need. While many attorneys are quick to negotiate with prosecutors to obtain a plea bargain instead of pursuing trial, our Florida Criminal Attorneys know that sometimes trial is the best option for your situation. We thoroughly evaluate every case and will always advise you of your best legal defense strategy.

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The Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested nine people and seized almost 100 pounds of marijuana in a large-scale marijuana operation, according to reports.

Two different marijuana grow houses were broken up, including one operated by a 40-year-old Lake Wales man.

The man is allegedly responsible for six grow houses in the Lake Wales and Frostproof areas. The operation took in millions of dollars a year, officials said.

marijuana grow houseOn Tuesday, the sheriff’s office revealed some evidence they had collected, including a gun, bulletproof vest and a large bag of marijuana. The operation resulted in the seizure of 96 pounds of marijuana and 70 marijuana plants, marijuana cultivation equipment, cash and vehicles.

Officials believe that most of the pot grown in the operation was shipped to the Northeast.

Polk deputies also busted a grow house in Poinciana on Monday, but officials have not yet reported whether the two busts are connected.

In Florida, manufacturing marijuana or cannabis is classified as a felony. Additionally, under the Marijuana Grow House Eradication Act, it is illegal to own or rent a home for the sole purpose of growing marijuana or housing marijuana plants. Depending on the size of the grow house operation and whether or not children are living in the home, convictions for this offense can range anywhere from 5 to 30 years in prison.

A Polk County Drug Crimes Defense Attorney at Whittel & Melton can help you if you have been accused of or charged with operating a grow house. We work tirelessly to defend those accused of running or participating in marijuana grow house operations.

We are more than familiar with the tactics police use to bust alleged grow house operations. That is why we never base a defense off of a police report. Instead, we perform our own investigation in order to gather the most accurate facts. If it is found that law enforcement used unlawful means to identify a marijuana operation, did not have probable cause for a search warrant or illegally questioned you, we will aggressively seek to have any evidence suppressed and push for the charges to be reduced or dismissed.

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A former Orlando police officer and Polk County School Board volunteer were among 98 arrested for prostitution and human trafficking during a four day undercover investigation conducted by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

The four day sting operation started Thursday and finished Sunday.

Detectives focused on websites that advertise prostitution.

woman_in_handcuffsThe Polk County Sheriff’s Office arrested 98 people, including 24 married men and women, 28 prostitutes, 52 “Johns” and 16 who brought prostitutes to the undercover location.

The undercover sting was titled “Operation: When will you learn.”

The former Orlando police officer, 44, is accused of trying to find women he could pimp out on the streets. He is charged with use of a two-way communication device to commit a felony and trying to derive proceeds from prostitution.

According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the man was trying to be a pimp.

Another man, a 56-year-old Polk County School Board volunteer residing in Winter Haven, is accused of soliciting an undercover female detective to have sexual intercourse for $100. He was charged with soliciting another to commit prostitution.

Deputies also allege that the undercover operation broke up at least three human trafficking rings.

Polk County law enforcement officers often try to catch those engaging in illegal acts of prostitution by performing undercover sting operations on a regular basis. These undercover operations are conducted with the hopes of luring unsuspecting individuals into acts of prostitution. Many undercover detectives are not above using all types of tricky and underhanded methods to catch suspected pimps and even law-abiding citizens just so an arrest can be made.

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Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies and undercover detectives conducted a three day county-wide proactive initiative that focused on repeat offenders, drug offenders, offenders on probation and followed up on crime tips and crime trends.

After the three day operation, 101 suspects were arrested and 15 search warrants were served.

Of those detained, 92 are repeat offenders, with a total of 955 prior arrests and more than 1,500 criminal charges.

Deputies and detectives claim they were able to seize $13,378, six firearms, one vehicle, more than two pounds of marijuana and more than three ounces of methamphetamine and 45.1 grams of hydrocodone.

drug sweepThe 101 suspects arrested were charged with 325 offenses, including 180 felonies, 145 misdemeanors, 32 outstanding warrants for 32 felonies and 17 misdemeanors, 5 warrants from other jurisdictions and one fugitive from justice.

Nine of those arrested were currently on probation, and received a violation of probation charge in addition to other charges. According to police, more than 12 of those arrested had active warrants for violating probation.

Reports indicate that 40 of the suspects were receiving public assistance at the time of their arrest, and 32 out of the 101 have served time in prison before.

The investigation focused on Auburndale, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Eloise, Frostproof and Lakeland areas of Polk County.

The sweep was part of the agency’s “Proactive Community Attack on Problems”, also known as the “PROCAP” program, that involves collecting daily crime data, studying trends in the data and delivering that information to supervisors and deputies.

When conducting a drug sweep, police usually raid homes and businesses where they believe drug activity is taking place. Numerous people can be arrested in these operations and charged with drug possession or distribution, as well as additional crimes like weapons charges and probation violations. While police may believe that those they are arrest are dealing drugs, many people caught up in these sweeps are innocent bystanders that have no direct connection to the drug trade.

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