Eighteen people face charges after their arrests in a Polk County child-sex sting, including men who told detectives they worked at Disney World, SeaWorld and a Christian school, the Sheriff's Office said.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a news conference Tuesday that the men, which range in age from 19 to 60, are facing multiple charges after being caught in Operation April's Fools, which ran from March 29 to April 4 in Lakeland. Six suspects were from Polk County; others came from Orange, Lake and Volusia counties. One was visiting from Alaska, deputies said.
During the operation, undercover detectives posted fake ads and profiles online, posing as children or child guardians. Numerous men responded to the ads and chatted online via text, email and phone with the undercover detectives, deputies said. The men solicited sex acts from people they thought were children as young as 13 years old; two suspects thought they were chatting with the father of a 10-year-old girl, deputies said.
Nine suspects brought condoms to their meeting with the "children," and some brought candy, deputies said.
Among those arrested, according to the Polk Sheriff's Office:
- Arthur Joseph Nelson, 19, of Orlando, who was a janitor at SeaWorld Orlando's Discovery Cove. SeaWorld said it has "zero tolerance for potential safety threats and have taken swift and appropriate action in this case."
- Jeffrey Erich Binder, 26, of Winter Garden, who works as a security guard at Walt Disney World. Deputies said his unform was found in his car. Disney said Binder was placed on unpaid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
- Robert Michael Gordon, 20, of Clermont, who told detectives he was a football coach at Central Florida Christian Academy and a produce clerk for Publix. Central Florida Christian Academy did not respond to a request for comment.
- Howard Bishop III, 60, of Lake Alfred, who arranged to meet with who he thought was the father of a 10-year-old girl, deputies said. Detectives said that he went into detail during his online chats about what he wanted to do and that he'd done sexual things with a 10-year-old girl before. Detectives are currently investigating those claims. He had a bag of candy in his car that he brought for the "girl," according to deputies.
- Samuel Orlin Hightower, 22, of Anchorage, Alaska, arrived at the undercover location to have sex with who he thought was a 13-year-old boy, deputies said. He told detectives that he was a customer service manager for Alaska Airlines. Detectives said they found cocaine in his wallet, and he faces drug possession charges.
- Keith Hartford Ingles, 59, of Lakeland, who told deputies he was a firefighter for Polk County Fire Rescue for eight years but is currently a mechanic.
- UPDATE: Brantley Ashton Thompson, 24, of Auburndale, was taken into custody without incident Tuesday afternoon in Winter Haven. Authorities said Thompson spoke online with two deputies posing as 14-year-old girls. Deputies say Thompson sent both "girls" photos of his genitalia.
The charges the men face range from attempted lewd battery, use of a computer to seduce a child, transmission of harmful material to a minor, use of a two-way communication device to commit a felony, and traveling to meet a minor.
Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Orlando Police and Lakeland Police, participated in the sting.