St. Johns County deputies arrest 17 men in online sex sting

by: Danielle Avitable, Action News Jax Updated:

MUGSHOTS: Operation Cruel Summer 

Seventeen men ranging from 19 to 60 years old were arrested in a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office's undercover sting called Operation Cruel Summer.

Four of the men are convicted felons and several others have been convicted of child crimes in the past.

"The purpose of these operations is to protect children in the state of Florida," St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said.

Shoar said detectives went on several online chatting sites posing as kids looking for people who wanted sexual relationships with children.

"These people know they could be talking to law enforcement, yet they still do it. I mean, what a compulsion that must be," Shoar said.

Fewer than 20 men were arrested, but hundreds more were talking to law enforcement online.

"We just got 17 that actually got in their cars and came here," Shoar said.

Shoar said the suspects thought they were meeting children for sex, but they were really meeting with detectives at an undercover location in the eastern part of the county, where they were taken into custody.

"There's nothing worse than seeing children be victimized by anybody, especially these types of people who are looking to sexually manipulate and exploit these kids," Shoar said.

All the suspects are facing felony charges. Shoar said that far more people are getting away with the crime than the number who are caught.

He said he believes one of the men arrested is also a human trafficker.

The investigation is still ongoing.