VOLUSIA COUNTY, Florida — The Volusa County Sheriff’s Offices says that nearly two dozen men used modern technology to groom their intended victims. Then, they traveled as far as 120 miles to Volusia County to allegedly have sex with a child. For others though, the trip was much shorter — many of them already live in Volusia County, Florida.
Officials say that one creative man even came prepared with a written contract, insisting he thought it would be legal for him to have sex with a 14-year-old girl if her parent consented and signed the agreement. But things didn’t exactly go as planned for this group of alleged predators.
Instead, their journey ended in a pair of handcuffs and a jail cell. That’s because the men were part of a 5-day undercover sting operation spearheaded by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office targeting offenders who use the Internet and other forms of technology to exploit children. Named “Operation Volusia Broad Band,” the sting wrapped up on Monday with 23 arrests.
This marked the second cyber-sting of its kind conducted in Volusia County, Florida. Another one last September resulted in 15 arrests. “Child exploitation is a problem that crosses all jurisdictional boundaries and socio-economic backgrounds,” said Volusia Sheriff Ben Johnson. “The arrests that were made in the past five days should be a wake-up call for all predators. Protecting children is our highest priority, and we’re going to continue to be aggressive and proactive in attacking exploitation whenever and wherever it occurs.”
During the operation, undercover law enforcement “chatters” posing as children — or in some cases, guardians of children — congregated in Cyberspace chat rooms, social networks and various web sites and waited to be approached by the suspects. In every case, police say the offenders thought they were either communicating with someone 14-or-younger or a child’s guardian.
When the conversation turned to meeting the child for sex, the undercover operative made arrangements to rendezvous at a decoy house in Ormond Beach, Florida that had been wired with surveillance cameras to capture the encounters for evidentiary purposes. While there were some additional criminal offenses, most of the defendants were charged with three felonies — use of a computer to seduce or solicit a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct, traveling to meet a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.
Some of the defendants were arrested after police say they thought they were arranging through a child’s mother, father or other relative to have sex with their children in order to teach them how to do it. For those defendants, the first charge was a little different — use of a computer to solicit a parent or guardian to consent to unlawful sexual conduct with a child.
The defendants ranged in age from 18-66. While two Brevard County men traveled from as far away as Melbourne, Florida and Cape Canaveral, Florida, most actually live in Volusia County, Florida. Two are local Volusia students — one from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Nathaniel L. Fritz) and the other from WyoTech (Lucas J. Rothermel). And most were carrying condoms, which agents say proves their intention was to have sex.
One Brevard County defendant (Paul D. Way) who allegedly thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl even brought a teddy bear. Way, who also is facing an additional narcotics offense after police say he was found to be in possession of two hydrocodone pills, arrived toting a hand-written, signed contract with blanks for the mother and daughter to sign giving him permission to perform sex acts on the girl.
In separate cases, Joshua Rockwood and David Payet both had an additional charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession. Meanwhile, the oldest defendant (John F. Williams), a semi-retired doctor from Port Orange who thought he was meeting a 14-year-old girl, brought a box of condoms, two bottles of wine, various sex devices and Viagra pills. And after his arrest, one defendant (Andrew Scheler) actually appeared to be relieved. Scheler told agents that he was “glad this happened because I shouldn’t be doing this.”
The three Brevard County men arrested are:
54-year-old Gary M. Amato of Cape Canaveral, Florida who was charged with Use of a Computer to Solicit/Lure a Child, Travel to Meet a Child After Computer Lure, and Use of a two-way Communications Device to commit a felony. Occupation: Unemployed.
36-year-old Paul D. Way of Melbourne, Florida who was charged with Use of a Computer to Solicit/Lure a Parent’s Consent, Travel to Meet a After Computer Parental Consent, and Use of a two-way Communications Device to commit a felony, Posession of a Schedule II Controlled Substance. Occupation: U.S. Army Reserve
18-year-old David O. Payet of Titusville, Florida who was charged with Use of a Computer to Solicit/Lure a Child, Travel to Meet a Child After Computer Lure, Possession of Cannabis no more than 20 grams, and Use of a two-way Communications Device to commit a felony. Occupation: Unemployed.
The other men arrested are as follows:
Name, Age, DOB, Address, Occupation
Christopher L. Crews, 24, 5/2/88, Palatka, contractor for FP&L
Nathaniel L. Fritz, 18, 8/14/94, Embry-Riddle, student/Embry-Riddle
Michael W. Fuller, 51, 5/24/61, Belleview, retired
Eric J. Geores, 24, 1/5/88, St. Augustine, custodian
Rodney L. Holley, 27, 6/4/85, 371 Chestnut Street, O.C., Allied Building Products
Job K. Jesuraju, 19, 6/22/93, 1690 Dunn Ave. DB
Robert Maddelena, 57, 10/2/55, St. Augustine, sales rep
Duane P. Owen, 54, 6/19/58, 100 Life Blvd. Ormond Bch, none
Jayson P. Parker, 27, 7/15/85, 73 N. Arbor Drive Ormond, flooring company
Joshua Rockwood, 20, 12/10/91, 901 S. Massachusetts DeLand, none
Lucas J. Rothermel, 20, 3/4/92, 630 S. Palmetto Ave. DB, student/WyoTech
Andrew J. Scheler, 25, 10/17/86, 3417 Yule Tree Drive Edgewater, Target
Ryan G. Shaw, 26, 10/18/85, 719 Beach Street DB, receptionist
Richard L. Short, 23, 12/28/88, 11A Squirrel Place Palm Coast, Cracker Barrel
George L. Snyder, 39, 9/17/73, Astor, unemployed
Brandon R. Mize, 24, 5/8/88, Kingsland GA, cook
Kevin A. Stephens, 29, 10/28/82, 34 Persimmon Drive Palm Coast, None
Kenneth A. Thomas, 28, 9/7/84, 939 School Street DB, Hooters
Luciano R. Visentin, 19, 5/17/93, Apopka, Publix
John F. Williams, 66, 7/25/46, 1822 Wiley Post Trail PO, doctor/semi-retired
While the Volusia Sheriff’s Office organized the operation, they had plenty of help. Agencies that participated in the operation included the following:
The North Florida Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force
Homeland Security Investigations – U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Cocoa Beach Office
Office of the State Attorney 7th Judicial Circuit
ICE-Brevard-Volusia Child Exploitation Task Force
Gainesville Police Department
Brevard County Sheriff’s Office
Alachua County Sheriff’s Office
Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office
St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office
Daytona Beach Police Department
Daytona Beach Shores Department of Public Safety
New Smyrna Beach Police Department
Ormond Beach Police Department
Tallahassee Police Department
Florida Department of Law Enforcement
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida