Tallahassee Man Included in Arrests Made During GA “Operation Threat Level Midnight”
March 11, 2023 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes Social Share
Several people in Georgia and Florida have been arrested after a sting operation targeted them as online child predators. This article will provide information from the sting operation, along with relative details on charges for child pornography possession in Florida.
What is a Sting Operation?
Law enforcement often conducts sting operations to apprehend suspects who possess or distribute child pornography content. A sting operation is an investigation technique that is commonly used to track down and arrest those who engage in unlawful sexual activity—especially when it comes to minors.
The process of a sting operation works as follows:
- Planning – Law enforcement will plan and coordinate an operation which is typically based on intelligence they have received about unlawful activities. Planning can involve identifying potential targets, developing an investigative strategy, and selecting undercover officers.
- Undercover Work – Undercover officers will pose as criminals or associates of the targeted person. The undercover police may be required to participate in unlawful activities to gain the trust of the targeted person and obtain evidence to further the investigation.
- Surveillance – The target will be surveilled to gather information and evidence and to ensure the safety of the undercover officers.
- Arrest – After there has been enough evidence gathered, the police will arrest the suspected person.
- Prosecution – After the arrest has been made, all of the gathered evidence will be presented in court to prosecute the suspect for the crime.
What is Operation Threat Level Midnight?
The Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force investigated alongside the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit (CEACC), the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office, and the United States Attorney’s Office, the Middle District of Georgia, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to target online child predators.
The operation took months of planning and collaborating with 11 law enforcement agencies. The individuals who were arrested traveled from areas in Southern Georgia to meet up with who they believed to be minors for sex. All four of the individuals arrested were under the impression that they were going to meet with a minor to engage in prearranged sex acts.
During the investigation, there were over 43 exchanges with the suspects on multiple internet platforms. The context of the conversations surrounded the idea of engaging in sex with a minor in exchange for financial compensation. In several of the cases, the subject had introduced obscene content in what the suspect thought was child pornography, or requested the child produce and send explicit content to them.
Over the course of three days, the following arrests and charges were made:
- Fudencio Ruiz Tum, 36, charged with trafficking persons for sexual servitude;
- Alex Terrell Harvey, 36, charged with trafficking of persons for sexual servitude;
- Jason Zaborske (from Tallahassee), 48, was charged with computer or electronic pornography and child exploitation prevention act of 2007; and
- David Salas, 45, charged with trafficking persons for sexual servitude.
Charges in Florida for Child Pornography Offenses
The state of Florida has strict laws when it comes to child pornography. Florida Statute Section 847.0135 titled “Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act” explains the prohibited computer uses in the state. Any person who:
- Knowingly complies, enters into, or transmits child pornography by using a computer;
- Makes, prints, publishes, or reproduces child pornography by other computerized means;
- Knowingly causes or allows child pornography to be entered or transmitted by the use of a computer; or
- Buys, sells, receives, exchanges, or disseminates,
any notice, statement, or advertisement of a minor’s personal information for the purpose of facilitating or soliciting of sexual conduct of a minor, or the visual depiction of such content can result in a third-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a third-degree felony in Florida is up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
Under the same Statute, any person who travels to meet a minor for the purpose of engaging in sexual conduct with a child or person believed to be a child can result in a second-degree felony in Florida. The same is true for any person who seduces, solicits, or lures a child, the parent of a child, or the legal guardian of a child for the purpose of engaging in illegal sexual conduct. The penalties for a second-degree felony include up to $10,000 in fines and up to 15 years in prison.
In addition to the legal penalties, a person convicted of a sex crime will be required to register under Florida’s Sex Offender Registry. The registry is a public record that keeps track of every person who has been convicted of a sex crime in Florida. Once on the registry, any job or potential renter will be able to see that you have been convicted of a sex crime. This makes it especially important to seek out help from a defense attorney to fight the charges against you.
Defenses to Child Pornography Charges
Cases involving child sexual abuse material (CSAM) are taken very seriously by both State and Federal law. Getting convicted of a possession of child pornography charge can result in paying expensive fines, lengthy prison sentences, and a lifetime registration under Florida’s Sex Offender Registry.
While it’s understandable to feel stressed when given one of these charges, an arrest does not mean that the defendant’s guilty. A person who has been accused of possessing child pornography should immediately seek out the guidance of a legal professional. A defense attorney can help by strategizing a strong defense for your case, and potentially using expert witnesses to complete cross-examinations of your digital devices.
The following is a list of possible defenses an attorney can use for a defendant charged with child pornography possession:
- Unlawful search and seizure – Evidence that is obtained through an unlawful search and seizure can be argued for suppression and not used in court. This is especially important if the police or the investigators violated one of your constitutional rights.
- Lack of knowledge – A defense attorney can argue that the defendant did not know about the CSAM material, or that they were not aware that the material in possession was considered child pornography.
- Mistaken identity – This defense can be used if the defendant was not the actual person who had child pornography in their possession.
- Not a Minor – If the alleged minor in the pornographic material is 18 or older when the material was made.
- CSAM through a virus – With technology, it is not impossible for unwanted content to be downloaded to a device without the person’s knowledge or consent. Working with a digital forensic expert witness can help determine this.
- Entrapment – If law enforcement coerces the defendant to commit a crime they would not have committed otherwise, the attorney can use entrapment as a defense in the case.
- Constitutional Challenges – During the legal process, if the defendant’s rights are violated in any sense, the violation can be used as a defense.
It is important to note that the effectiveness of a defense will vary depending on the specific details of the case. Every case is unique, which is why it is imperative that you speak with a defense attorney if you have been arrested for a child pornography offense. A skilled defense attorney can provide more guidance on the appropriate defenses to use based on the facts of the case.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
If you or someone you know has been charged with possession of child pornography, it is in your best interest to seek out legal representation as soon as possible. Getting convicted of a sex crime has life-long repercussions. In addition to the legal penalties, there is also the weight of the social stigma that comes from these charges. Working with a defense attorney is your best shot at beating your case and safeguarding your future.
At Pumphrey Law Firm, our Tallahassee child porn defense attorneys will fight vigorously for your case. We understand the nuances of the legal world and will ensure that none of your rights are violated in the process. To receive a free consultation regarding your case, contact our office at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.
Written by Karissa Key