FDLE’s Operation Kessel Run

April 9, 2024 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Sex Crimes

A recent undercover operation led by multiple legal agencies has ended with a dozen suspects arrested for their attempt to travel to meet a minor. This page will provide details from the investigation, common charges committed against children online, and information on Florida’s potential social media bill.

Details on Multi-Agency Investigation

A multiday operation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and several other agencies resulted in the arrest of 12 people accused of traveling to meet a minor.

According to FDLE’s press release, undercover investigators posed as juveniles online ranging from 13- to 14-years-old in the operation titled “Operation Kessel Run.” The adults who communicated with the “juveniles” were informed that they were only teenagers but continued the communication. The suspects began to engage in sexually explicit conversations where they requested lewd images and described how they intended to engage in sexual activity with the “minor.”

Once the conversation turned to a potential meet up, the undercover investigators provided a specific place and time for the “meeting,” which would turn out to be an undercover sting bust. The 12 individuals who drove to meet the “minors” were subsequently arrested. They are now facing the following charges:

  • Seducing a minor to engage in sexual conduct;
  • Traveling to meet a minor for sexual activity; and
  • Use of a two-way communication device to facilitate a felony.

In addition to FDLE, the participating agencies in Operation Kessel Run included the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach Police departments, the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), Naval Criminal Investigation Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

“These suspects asked for lewd photos and communicated in graphic sexual terms,” said FDLE Special Agent Chris Williams said. “Luckily our FDLE agents and analysts, along with our partners, found them before they found our children. And while this operation is finished, we are not. The work of these investigators continues because we know there are more predators out there just waiting for the opportunity to hurt a child.”

The following is a statement by HSI Special Agent Nicholas Ingegno:

“These predators preyed on the innocence of children by knowingly engaging in lewd and lascivious online conduct, only to take it a step further and agreeing to meet in person and turn those conversations into action. Operation Kessel Run was a successful joint investigation, but there is still more work that must be done. HSI, alongside our law enforcement partners, will never rest in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting predators who seek to use children for their perverse behavior and make them lifelong victims.”

You can view the entire press release and list of those arrested in Operation Kessel Run here.

What are Sexual Criminal Offenses Committed Online?

Unfortunately, the internet can have negative sides to it, specifically regarding individuals who target young people online. The following provides common criminal offenses that people are accused of committing against children online:

  • Lewd and Lascivious Exhibition – When a person is accused of intentionally masturbating, exposing their genitals in a lewd or lascivious manner, or committing any other sexual act that takes place live over a computer online service, internet service, or local bulletin board. Charges range from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.
  • Unlawful use of a two-way communication device – When a person is accused of using any two-way communication device to facilitate or further any felony offense in Florida. Considered a third-degree felony.
  • Seducing a Minor – When a person is accused of knowingly using a computer service, internet service, or any other device capable of electronic data storage or transmission to seduce, solicit, or entice a minor of engaging in any unlawful sexual conduct. Charges range from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.
  • Traveling to Meet a Minor When a person is accused of traveling any distance within, to, or from Florida, for the purpose of engaging in any illegal act or unlawful sexual act with a minor or person believed to be a minor. Considered a second-degree felony.
  • Computer Pornography When a person is accused of compiling, transmitting, printing, publishing, reproducing, buys, sells, or exchanges any notice, statement, or advertisement with any minor’s personal information for the purpose of facilitating, encouraging, offering, or soliciting sexual conduct of or with any minor. Considered a third-degree felony.

If you or someone you care about is accused of any criminal offense targeted against minors online, you should prioritize finding legal representation. Criminal offenses that are sexual in nature may also come with the severe consequence of a lifelong registry as a sexual offender. The lawyers with Pumphrey Law can review your case and establish a plan for defense.

Florida’s Potential Social Media Bill to Protect Minors Online

One new proposed legislation could change the number of minors online. What started as HB 1 was initially vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and later rewritten to what is now HB 3 titled, “Online Protection for Minors.”

The new law would require social media platforms to prohibit minors below a certain age from creating new accounts and deleting any old accounts from users below the specified age. HB 3 corrected the first version of the bill by lowering the age of those restricted from online use being younger than 14. Any minors between the ages of 14 and 15 shall be prohibited from creating a new social media account unless they receive permission from their parent or guardian.

While the potential law does not provide any criminal penalties, it does address civil penalties against the social media companies. There has also been confusion over which platforms will be prohibited. A report by WUSF indicated that the new legislation would exclude sites like Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), and Reddit. While not confirmed, platforms like TikTok and Snapchat may be included due to their young users.

If HB 3 passes, the law will go into effect on July 1, 2024.

Contact the Lawyers with Pumphrey Law Firm

Crimes against children have and will continue to be harshly prosecuted in Florida. With multi-agency led sting operations such as Operation Kessel Run, law enforcement will continue to crack down on suspected illegal acts and communication online. If you find yourself facing criminal charges for something on the internet, consult with the team at Pumphrey Law Firm.

Our Tallahassee criminal defense lawyers have years of experience representing these sensitive cases. We understand how difficult this time can be and will do everything we can to find the best resulting outcome for your case. Contact our office by calling (850) 681-7777 or send us a message.

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