WINTER HAVEN (FOX 13) - The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has arrested 39 suspects as a result of an undercover investigation into sex crimes including pedophilia and prostitution. A Lake Wales soccer coach was among those arrested.
The sheriff’s office said the suspects solicited children as young as 10 years old for sex acts. One of the suspects, Todd Sebring, was described as the typical father of two next door. He was a deacon at his church, volunteered at a local school, and was a kids soccer coach in Lake Wales.
"What you see on the outside is the all-American dad," commented Polk Sheriff Grady Judd. "What you see on the inside is a deviant."
The week-long investigation resulted in 39 arrests. Sebring was the only one arrested for allegedly downloading child porn. PCSO says 19 of the arrests were men traveling to meet a minor for sex. The remaining 19 arrests were related to online prostitution – those who are prostitutes and advertise online, and those who solicited undercover detectives who posted ads posing as prostitutes.
One of the organizers of Lake Wales Soccer Club told FOX 13 he was "totally blindsided" by Sebring's arrest.
"Certainly his character did not seem that way," Shields said.
Shields says after learning of Sebring's charges, he immediately sent out letters to parents saying the club did a criminal background check on Sebring before he was allowed to volunteer, and it came up clean.
Shields says when Sebring was coaching kids, parents were always around so he doesn't think there was any sexual contact between Sebring and players. Judd also says there is no evidence to that effect.
Multiple agencies assisted the Polk County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation, including the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the State Attorney’s Office, the FBI Orlando Bureau, and more than a dozen other sheriff’s offices and police departments.
During the operation, undercover detectives posted fictitious ads or profiles on various social media platforms, websites, and mobile phone applications, posing as children, or as custodians of children, or as prostitutes or those soliciting prostitutes.
PCSO does undercover investigations such as this one frequently, but despite the media coverage and arrests made from past investigations, they say suspects still use the same online advertisement avenues to both seek out and advertise illegal sex acts.
“These predators are really out there, trying to violate children,” said Sheriff Grady Judd. “All it takes is one glance at the conversations these predators have with our undercover detectives. They lurk in chat rooms, and online, ready to groom and violate your children. Fortunately, we’ve prevented at least 19 of them from doing so. The things that these predators say to children are vile, disgusting, and not fit for anyone except trained detectives to read. And even seasoned, trained detectives are repulsed. These predators need to be locked up, and stay locked up and away from children.”
The 39 suspects face a total of 126 charges, including use of a computer to seduce a child, promotion of sexual performance by a minor, traveling to meet a minor, possession of child pornography, soliciting prostitution and more.
PCSO says additional charges are pending further investigation.