Joseph Gearhart of Coral Springs, Florida was arrested Wednesday after he was accused of attempting to meeting up with a 14-year-old boy for sex, news sources report. The “boy,” who Gearhart was allegedly communicating with online, turned out to be an undercover detective participating in a sting to catch child predators. Gearhart, 34, was booked into the Broward County Main Jail on charges of traveling to meet a child for sex, attempting a lewd act on a child under 16, using a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony, and soliciting, luring, enticing a child to engage in sex. A judge set his bail bond at $22,000. The press did not say whether Gearhart has obtained an attorney.
Reports say Gearhart has been in a relationship with his domestic partner, Michael Comfort, for the past 11 years. “This is totally out of left field for me,” Comfort purportedly said in court when he heard the allegations. “I’ve no words. I probably wouldn’t have come if I’d known [that’s what the charges were.” Comfort reportedly told reporters that he and Gearhart sometimes watched child predator sting operations on TV, Gearhart would announce how “vehemently opposed” he was to grown adults attempting to have sex with children. There is no indication the Gearhart has ever sexually assaulted a child or anyone else. Before his recent arrest, he had no criminal record in Florida.
In March, Gearhart created a personal Craigslist ad seeking a male partner between the ages of 18 and 28, sources say. An undercover detective working for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement replied to the ad, pretending to be a 14-year-old boy, reports say. The detective, posing as the boy, reportedly said he was on spring break and “new to this but sounds good.”
Gearhart responded to the detective’s message, saying he was worried about breaking the law, reports say. “Are you saying you’re 14?” Gearhart reportedly asked the detective. As the conversation moved forward, sources say Gearhart later said, “I think people should be able to make their own decisions about what they do with their bodies, but I don’t want to get arrested over it.”
Gearhart and the “boy” allegedly continued to message each other until mid-June. One week before his arrest, Gearhart sent the detective a message, part of which said, “Pick a day next week and I’ll see if I can make it happen,” reports say. Gearhart purportedly proposed that they meet up at the Westfield Broward Mall. “I can be a great practice dummy for people trying to feel things out,” Gearhart allegedly said in an email sometime before the meeting.
On Wednesday, Gearhart allegedly traveled to the mall to meet with the boy. When he arrived, detectives with the FDLE arrested him, sources say. The detectives reportedly showed Gearhart printed copies of the emails he had sent the detective during the investigation. According to reports, Gearhart admitted that he had written and sent the emails.
Detectives across the country regularly pose as children or as guardians offering their children for sex online in an effort to catch online predators. These stings result in thousands of arrests each year.