POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A 36-year-old City of Lakeland public works employee is in jail, accused of having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old girl. 

  • John Waldau, 36, faces several charges
  • Detectives: Waldau met teen through mutual friend, communicated with her using Facebook
  • Text messages show they discussed marriage when teen turned 18

Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives said John Waldau met the teen through another person he knew and then started "grooming" her on Facebook. 

“Classic example of social media out of control with a guy grooming a child online,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. 

Detectives said Waldau admitted to having several sexual encounters with the girl last summer. In an affidavit that included what the sheriff’s office said were examples of Facebook Messenger texts, Waldau encourages the girl to sneak out of her home late at night for the encounters. 

In other messages, the two talk about marriage in two years when she would be 18 years old.

“I’m stunned. I’m shocked,” said neighbor Kathryn Gernot about the accusations against Waldau. 

Gernot said Waldau had seemed like a good guy. 

“Because he is a good neighbor," she said. "He seemed like a caring and good individual.”

Judd shared a very different assessment while addressing Waldau's December 31 arrest with reporters.

“He’s a bad man and he’s in jail,” Judd said.

The city of Lakeland said it was in the process of suspending Waldau while his case made its way through the legal system. 

Waldau is being held in the Polk County jail on $40,000 bond. 


John Waldau (Courtesy of Polk County Sheriff's Office)