A sexual assault sting in Osceola County, Florida netted 40 arrests for Attempted Lewd or Lascivious Battery on a Child, Travel to Seduce Child to Commit Sex Acts, Use of a Computer to Solicit Child for Sex, and Possession of Alcohol by a Minor. The undercover operation was designed to catch adults pursuing sex with minors on the internet.
Given the extremely serious nature of these offenses, those arrested should hire a private criminal defense attorney who has experience dealing with sexual offenses, especially lewd and lascivious molestation charges.
Those arrested include professional golfer Stephen Wesley Thomas, middle school teacher Alexander Roy, swim coach Bryan Woodward, and a handful of college students.
The sting, dubbed “Operation Red Cheeks,” ran for one week between January 8-16.
Some, who thought they were talking to parents or guardians during the sting, were also charged with Use of a Computer to Seduce/Solicit/Entice a Parent, Legal Guardian or Custodian of Child to Commit Sex Acts of the Child and Travel to Seduce, Solicit, or Lure a Parent, Guardian, or Custodian to Consent to Commit Sex Acts with a Child.
During the sting, detectives went online and chatted with suspects while pretending to be children. In some cases, undercover officers posed as parents or guardians of children willing to sell sex with their kids.
Unbelievably this is a much more common occurrence that the public realizes. In fact, I am surprised many were not also charged with possession of child pornography.
After a period of chatting back and forth with offenders, arrangements were made to meet the suspects for sex with the child.
Upon arrival at the pre-arranged meeting site, the suspects were arrested and taken into custody.
At the time arrests were made, some offenders were found to be in possession of alcohol, chocolate, candy, honey, pudding, condoms, Viagra, and other suspect items.
“These predators stalk the cyber community looking for children,” Osceola Sheriff Bob Hansell told the press. “At a minimum, 40 children did not fall prey to a sexual deviant” thanks to the sting, he said.
Of the 40, the most notorious arrestee is professional golfer Stephen Wesley Thomas, age 55. Thomas is known for reportedly playing in 44 PGA tour events and 34 Champion tour events which have included 3 career top-10 finishes.
According to the police report, Thomas believed he was talking to the mother of a 13-year old girl during the initial phase of the sting. Thomas arranged to meet the girl for sex with the ‘mother.’ When Thomas arrived at the supposed meeting location, he was arrested and his car was searched. Officials found a bottle of honey, two packages of chocolate pudding and three condoms in the vehicle.
Disturbingly, one of those ensnared included a swim coach. Bryan Woodward, 29, of Gainesville, was a children’s coach at a private club called the Gator’s Club prior to his arrest. The police report says that Woodward, who thought he was messaging a child during the sting, told her “younger girls turn [him] on” and discussed detailed sex acts. He brought candy to the meeting point with him.
Another teacher was caught in the sting as well. Alexander Roy, 32, was a math teacher at Manatee Academy in Port St. Lucie prior to his arrest. The school board has announced that he has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.
The arrests also included a number of college students, a personal trainer, a soldier, a warehouse worker, and a retired 70-year-old beekeeper who showed up to meet the child with white wine, a heart-shaped box of chocolates and Viagra.
Criminal Defense Issues for Those Accused
Insofar as defending those accused is concerned, these are clearly cases that will result in prison terms. The likelihood of beating these types of charges under these types of circumstances is truly minimal.
Since trial and putting up a fight is not a realistic option, criminal defense attorneys representing any of the 40 need to build a case based on mitigation and acceptance of responsibility.
The upside in this case is that no children were actually harmed.
Accordingly, the courts can use this opportunity to rehabilitate and monitor these offenders before things proceed to the point where children are actually being harmed.
To accomplish this, an offender needs to accept the reality that he is going to prison. He also needs to accept the reality that he is going to prison for more than a couple years.
However, the goal should be to minimize that prison term and replace it with probation and sex offender treatment.
From society’s perspective and based on my professional experience both as a prosecutor and as a criminal defense lawyer, I can tell you that treatment is an absolute must if we are to protect our children from such offenders.
Since life in prison is not an option for law enforcement, they have no choice but to deal with the day when such sex offenders are released from custody.
To permit such a release without addressing the immense underlying psycho-sexual addiction that drove them to offend would be utterly reckless.
The only chance future victims have is to use cases like these to make changes in the offenders mind that will prevent some of them from acting out on their urges again, once free.
Let me be clear… the best approach from a criminal defense perspective is to be pragmatic. In this case that means taking the side of victims, accepting a measure of punishment, and emphasizing the importance of mitigation that includes treatment – not for the defendant’s sake, but for the safety of the public.
When a criminal defendant takes this approach early on in his case and does not put the Government through the effort and expense of going to trial, a potential prison sentence should be mitigated.
This concept is not new and is reflected in many sentencing laws, especially those that control sentencing in Federal court. Even though this is a State case, the same concepts are entirely relevant and applicable to the judge’s sentencing calculus.
In summary, if I were to represent any of the 40 arrested, my advice (after conducting a thorough case evaluation of course) would be to accept the realities of this case and immediately start doing some MAJOR damage control.
Getting a psycho-sexual evaluation and self-admitting into rehab would be a VERY VERY good idea. The sooner this is done the better.
From there, lobbying prosecutors or pursuing a downward departure would be the next move.
In any event, cases like these are extremely serious for everyone involved, this includes the public.
As a canary in the coal mine, I can tell you a strict punitive approach does not work. Sex offenders are driven by psychological forces that will drive them to risk everything.
Locking them up will not cure them. Prison will not re-write their corrupted sex drives. This is the reality of such cases.
Bottom line is this: if we are to have any chance of protecting future victims from these 40 men, then we as a society have no choice but to provide these offenders with treatment so they can learn to control their urges and not end up meeting a kid with a box of chocolates and a pocket full of Viagra and condoms.