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Sting Operations

Law enforcement agencies have been using sting operations for over 50 years. These are usually undercover operations set out by police to catch potential offenders in the act of a crime. While sting operations have the benefit of facilitating investigations and increasing arrests, there has been argument over whether they reduce crime or potentially increase it.

This page will provide information pertaining to sting operations and the different techniques used by law enforcement.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

Were you recently arrested due to a sting operation in Leon County or the surrounding counties in the Florida Panhandle? You should not speak to law enforcement until you have legal counsel. Consider hiring a defense attorney with Pumphrey Law to represent your case. Our lawyers understand how stressful this experience is and will do everything we can to protect your rights and fight back against a criminal conviction. Our office represents those in need of legal help in Bay County, Wakulla County, Liberty County, Jefferson County, and more. Contact us today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us a message to schedule a free case evaluation.

What is a Sting Operation?

A sting operation is essentially an undercover mission law enforcement officers conduct for an ongoing investigation into an alleged crime. While it can be hard to give it a single definition due to the various offenses and strategies that make up a sting operation, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), identifies that sting operations typically contain four basic elements:

  1. An opportunity for a person to commit a crime, either created or exploited by police;
  2. A targeted person or group are considered likely offenders of a particular crime;
  3. An undercover or hidden police officer, or some form of deception; and
  4. A “gotcha” climax where the operation ends with arrests.

Sting operations are typically conducted to catch a suspected criminal offender in the act. However, it also involves a level of deception from the undercover officers and investigators. Common deception techniques used by law enforcement in a sting operation can include:

  • Undercover officer in a disguise to suit the scene, such as an undercover officer posing as a drug dealer or a sex worker;
  • Using a false storefront to pose as pawnbrokers or to openly conduct illegal fencing operations;
  • Using a professional police informer or former offender who are well connected and are experts in that specific area of crime;
  • Placing false advertisements, such as a lottery winning to entice offenders with outstanding arrest warrants;
  • Going undercover online in chatrooms or web pages to target individuals of fraud, sexual exploitation, or child pornography;
  • Staging a “bait” or decoy car in a spot believed to experience considerable amounts of motor vehicle theft;
  • The use of a juvenile offender as a surrogate or a “minor decoy” for police by attempting to purchase alcohol or cigarettes; and
  • Using surveillance to record the catching of the alleged offense and to demonstrate that police did not entrap the defendant.

When a sting operation is conducted, examples of the evidence collected can include wiretaps, transaction records, video footage, or accounting an organized system of bribery or fraud. Overall, the main objective of conducting a sting is to “gain the necessary evidence to help effective arrest, prosecution, and conviction of all offenders involved in a complex crime or fraud that involves many offenders.”

What Offenses are Sting Operations Used For?

The following lists the type of criminal offenses most often associated with the use of an undercover sting operation:

If you were recently accused of any of the offenses listed above, consult an experienced Tallahassee, FL criminal defense lawyer to discuss your case.

HB 1131 and SB 1190

Florida lawmakers have proposed two new bills revolving around sting operations. HB 1131 and SB 1190 are both titled “Online Sting Operations Grant Program.” The goal of each bill is to create an FDLE program to support local law enforcement in creating certain sting operations that take place online.

If the proposed legislation passes, it will create the new Florida Statute Section 943.0411 to do the following:

  1. Create an Online Sting Operation Grant Program within the department to award local law enforcement agencies with grants to support the creation of sting operations to target individuals preying on or attempting to prey on children;
  2. Have the Department annually award local law enforcement agencies any funds specifically appropriated for the grant program to cover expenses related to computers, electronics, software, and other necessary supplies; and
  3. The Department can establish criteria for specific time periods for the acceptance of applications and for the selection process for awarding grant funds.

The two bills have received some backlash from organizations like Florida Action Committee, who claimed that there should be grant money allocated for solving crimes with real victims, rather than spending so many resources on a made-up scenario.

The Committee also argued that these sting operations typically take place on “adult-only” websites where people of legal age are seeking other consenting adults. That means a person who had no desire to meet or form a relationship with a minor could be “pulled in” by the police knowing all the right things to say to entrap a potential suspect.

A report by The Appeal addressed that law enforcement agencies receive funding based on how many arrests and convictions they can get, potentially creating the incentive that police should pursue more fictitious-victim sting operations. They also argued that sting operations are often less time-intensive than investigations with real victims. Finally, the report states that it is unclear how crimes against minors these sting operations prevent, and that there’s little research into whether money being spent on sting operations keep children safe from victimization.

If HB 1131 and SB 1190 pass, they will go into effect July 1, 2024.

Recent Florida Sting Operation Case

January 2024

The Leon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) arrested over a dozen individuals through two separate sting operations. According to the report, LCSO’s “ALL IN” program began an investigation into violent crimes and online exploitation. The two sting operations were “Operation Firewall” and “Operation Grinch.” The two undercover operations launched in November 2023 and were carried out over six months.

Operation Firewall targeted people online who were engaging or attempting to engage in internet crimes against children. LCSO Sgt. Tyler Epstein said their officers went undercover to pose as underage minors online. After engaging in more than 100 conversations through the sting operation, there were 75 people flagged for continuing to engage in conversation after learning they were underage. There were eight people arrested from Operation Firewall, including the following charges:

Operation Grinch was considered a “John operation” and was aimed at targeting people engaged in sexual exploitation. The operation included officers who went undercover as someone offering to commit prostitution. LCSO Sgt. Shade McMillian said with this type of operation, “the only way to find those people seeking illegal services is to pose as someone who is selling themselves.” There were eight other individuals arrested in Operation Grinch, with the defendants facing misdemeanor charges for Solicitation of Prostitution and Entering a Building for the Purpose of Prostitution.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer with Pumphrey Law

Facing criminal prosecution after being arrested in a sting operation is understandably frustrating. It is important that you do not speak to the police until you have obtained legal representation. A Criminal defense lawyer who is experienced with sting operations and the tactics police take to catch potential offenders is imperative to a successful case. The attorneys with Pumphrey Law can review your case and determine if any of your rights were violated or if you were entrapped by police.

Contact our office today at (850) 681-7777 or fill out an online form to schedule your free consultation. Pumphrey Law Firm is prepared to fight aggressively for the best result in your case.

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