[Osceola County, FL] Pro golfer Steve Thomas was among those arrested as part of a major sting that nabbed 40 people who arranged to have sex with a minor using the internet, according to Osceola County Sheriff’s detectives.
The bust was the conclusion of a week long, multi-agency, undercover operation dubbed, ahem, “Operation Red Cheeks.”
“The success of this operation was the result of multiple local and state agencies working together in a cooperative effort. Florida Sheriffs and the Florida Sheriff’s Association has taken a strong proactive enforcement position to combat these predators statewide,” stated Sheriff Bob Hansell.
Undercover detectives posed as juveniles – or in some cases, the parent or guardian of a juvenile – in chat rooms and on instant messaging programs. The suspects then arranged to meet in Osceola County to have sex with a child. The release says that most of the suspects sent pornographic images during the online “meetings.”
Many brought alcohol and/or drugs to the Osceola County meeting spot where the sex was to take place.
“These predators stalk the cyber community looking for children to victimize. This operation resulted in 40 arrests which means at a minimum, 40 children did not fall prey to a sexual deviant,” added Hansell via press release.
It was not clear if the 55-year-old Thomas, who recently competed at the ACE Group Classic in Naples as part of the PGA Tour, brought drugs or alcohol to the meeting. He was charged with several crimes including:
- Travel to Seduce Child to Commit Sex Acts
- Use of Computer to Seduce/Solicit/Entice a Parent, Legal Guardian or Custodian of Child to Commit Sex Acts on the Child
- Attempted Lewd & Lascivious Battery on a Child
With 44 PGA Tour appearances including three top-10 finishes, Steve Thomas is the biggest name on the list of suspects. Also on the list: an eighth grade teacher, a swim coach and eight college students.
According to the arrest affidavit, Thomas thought he set up a meeting to have sex with a 13-year-old girl, to which he confessed. To seal the deal he sent pictures of himself golfing. Curiously, when the cops searched his car they found three condoms, chocolate pudding and honey.
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate
Lead image: Osceola County Sheriff’s office