Allen Treaster being arrested. (Screencaps via WKMG News)
In Florida's Polk County, the Sheriff's department arrested 16 people this weekend in a giant To Catch a Predator-style sting. Those arrested include Walt Disney World employees Zachary Spencer and Allen Treaster, and Universal Studios employee Matthew "Cody" Myers.
On Monday, Polk County's colourful Sheriff Grady Judd talked to the press at great length about the weekend operation, called "Operation Cyber Child III". He painted a vivid picture of the suspects' monstrous deeds. But there are weird holes in Judd's story, and one of the local TV news stations has been watching him, and pressuring him for details he seems hesitant to divulge.
During a lengthy, legally unnecessary press conference after the announcement of the arrests, Sheriff Judd delivered a long sermon in which he reassured the people of Central Florida that he would double his efforts to protect their children. While his resolve is astonishing, and the cause is noble, the speech was unclear at times as Judd meandered and took unnecessary detours while painting this batch of molesters as an eccentric and weirdly talkative bunch of perverts.
When describing Allen Treaster's crimes, which include travelling to Georgia to have sex with a 15-year-old, he seemed eager to create a sense that Treaster was growing more dangerous. He explained that Treaster "told our detectives that his real goal – his fantasy – was to have sex with a 14-year-old boy. Because, you see, he had already had sex with a 15-year-old boy. So he was working down to younger children. We see this person as very dangerous."
It's unclear why someone who had just been arrested for lewd conduct with a minor would detail an elaborate fantasy about steadily more heinous crimes that hadn't happened yet.
A teacher who was arrested in the operation was vilified for loving the Ukraine. "He has been to the Ukraine, and he loves the Ukraine. He says he loves the Ukraine like we love The United States. So why does he love the Ukraine? That’s under investigation. I’ll tell you what we love: We love to arrest sexual predators."
Judd's account of the arrest of another suspect, Jacob Bickle, took an oddly melodramatic turn, as though he was trying to make Bickle sympathetic. "Once he was arrested he went from wanting to have sex with children, and arriving to have sex with children, to begging us to shoot him. Well, when we wouldn’t do what he asked, upon arriving at county jail, he begged the transport deputy not to leave him there. 'Please don’t leave me here. Would you at least give me a hug before you let me off at jail?'"
It also strikes me as weird that some phase of the arrests of all of these men were documented on video, another totally unnecessary bit of theatrical flourish. Each was shot from the same angle, in cuffs, facing the camera, trembling, the images always amber toned, with a similar (or maybe identical) entryway behind them. It reminds me of the media circuses the cops in Mexico manufacture whenever they make a huge drug bust.
The Disney World connection is what attracted my attention to this story, and other than emphasising how scary it is that these men were near children, Judd doesn't make it sound like they're using their place of employment specifically to access victims. Instead, he accidentally attracted my attention to the sheer weirdness of his operation, and to the fact that I'm not the only one who has noticed.
Noah Pransky, investigative reporter for the local CBS affiliate, WTSP, also has some questions for Judd. He and his team have been issuing public record requests for some time and having no luck. It seems that WTSP wants to make sure these stings aren't entrapment, which, as you probably know, means inducing someone to commit a crime they weren't otherwise going to commit.
Sheriff Judd preemptively assured the attendees that it wasn't entrapment, saying, "The reason this is not just the Florida sheriff’s top priority, but my top priority, is because every one of these people would have engaged very young children in sex this weekend, but for our great detectives that work hard to keep that from happening."
I approached WTSP for more information about their investigation, and they politely declined to comment.
A person who is willing, but not actively seeking, to have sex with a minor certainly isn't someone I would want to have a beer with, but the law says cops aren't supposed to approach them when they're minding their own business and get them to try. The distinction between paedophiles and active molesters is worth making, and we're only recently starting to acknowledge it.
Apart from entrapment, WTSP also seems concerned about the size of the operation, and the sheer expense of it all. Judd seems to be using a lot of resources in order to turn himself into the Elliott Ness of child molesters, and he's being cagey about the investment of time and money involved.
Even if Judd is covering something up, there's no way it's anything as heinous as molesting kids. And it might turn out that he's just a deranged sheriff with a pet cause, who loves being in the spotlight. He wouldn't be the only one.
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