Anthony Gene Thomas of Broward, Florida was arrested on January 17 for allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl from Brevard County and soliciting pornographic images and videos from her.
Thomas, 41, allegedly connected with the victim through the widely popular online video game Fortnite. His arrest was announced on Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s website.
“This case is disturbing not only because it involves child pornography, but also because a popular online game was used to communicate with the victim,” Moody wrote on her website. “We have reason to believe there could be additional victims, and I am asking anyone with information about the recruiting of minors for child pornography, or any other type of sexual exploitation, to call law enforcement immediately.”
Moody also urged parents to talk to their children about sexual predators who lurk online.
“Additionally, parents need to know that predators will use any means possible to target and exploit a child. I am asking parents and guardians to please make sure you know who your children meet online, and talk to them about sexual predators.”
Thomas faces several charges, including 22 counts of possession of child pornography; unlawful sex with a minor; traveling to meet a minor for sexual activity; soliciting a minor for unlawful sexual conduct; possession with the intention of promoting the sexual performance of a minor; and using a computer to compile child pornography. His bond was set at $780,000. The press did not name an attorney for him.
According to the arrest report, an unidentified friend of Thomas introduced him to the victim through Fortnite. Thomas purportedly used classic grooming techniques such as playing to the victim’s insecurities and cloaking their relationship in secrecy. When the victim told Thomas about the hardships of her home life, he reportedly sent her gifts, including credit cards and a cellphone to allow her to contact him directly.
Thomas and his friend went to Brevard County on August 25 to pick up the girl and bring her to his home in Broward for sex, the report said. They allegedly engaged in sexual activity when they arrived at his home.
The teen’s parents called the police and reported her as missing. She was found by police and returned home on August 26. Phone records show that Thomas and the victim continued communicating. Investigators executed a search warrant on October 11 and went through Thomas’ cellphone. They found pornographic images and videos of the teen, according to the report.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office believes there could be at least 20 other victims. Thomas is facing charges in only one case.
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